Learning the Circle of Fifths deeply is something that can take years to do. When I looked at the circle in high school, I understood very little about it. I knew about how it related to key signatures and the order of flats and sharps. But then there are modes, the fact that it’s a tone row, seeing how it works with symmetrical scales, what it can sound like, understanding how it relates to modulation, transposition, etc. Looking at the circle of fifths can actually get a little overwhelming when you have a deep understanding of it. Learning it exhaustively takes a lot of time and effort. The first step is in understanding where it gets its name and how to draw it out for yourself. The second step is to flat out memorize it.
Why Memorize the Circle of Fifths?
Pathways in the brain that are used often and for a long period of time become fluid mental reflexes. The circle of fifths becomes this for a skilled musician, but only to a point without actually taking the time to study it. Most intermediate (and some advanced) musicians will be a little slow when working with the bottom part of the circle (B, F#/Gb, Db). But learning to think your way around the bottom is crucial both in musical performance and in theoretical understanding. You will be able to read common enharmonic spellings fluently. You will be able to memorize music more quickly by connecting it to the circle. You will understand formal structures and phrasing more coherently. It all starts with having the circle memorized in its entirety. But this can be tedious and frustrating, so we made a game out of it!
The original 2048 has value because it is a game good for the mind in and of itself. But when I played the Dr. Who edition, I quickly realized its potential to help anyone memorize any sequence they wanted to. It has even been applied to pi! Why not reuse the idea to help music students memorize the circle of fifths. And that’s exactly what we did. But we didn’t stop there. This is music, and music should be heard. As you play, you’ll notice how pretty the circle can be. Our plans for the game in the future will include a more complex interactive composition than what we have so far. But for now it is an entertaining and aesthetically palatable way to inherently memorize the circle of fifths. Enjoy!