circle of fifths

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circle of fifths (Ger. Qintenzirkel). An arrangement first described by Heinichen in Der Generalbass (1728) and used by theorists to illustrate relative harmonic remoteness of one key from another, i.e. the number of fifths by which 2 notes are separated along the circle. If arranged clockwise by ascending (or descending) perfect fifths, the tonics of the 12 major (or minor) keys make a closed circle, thus: C–G–D–A–E–B(=C♭)–F♯(=G♭)–C♯(=D♭)–A♭–E♭–B♭–F–C and so after these 12 steps the original key is reached again.