I have been trying to learn some music theory and have come across the amazing thing that is the circle of fifths.
It is such a beautiful construction and makes such intuitive sense, that it makes the way that music theory around building scales has been written feel a bit arbitrary and purely based around the fact that we like sequences of letters that go in order, rather than any kind of intuitive pattern.
To build a major scale using the traditional method, you have to transpose the pattern TTSTTTS (where T is a tone and S is a semitone) starting at the root note of whatever scale you are working with. Now, without a keyboard in front of you, or a fretted instrument, it's not intuitively apparent which incidentals should be included in each of the scales. To work that out, you need to consult the circle of fifths, so why not just use the circle of fifths to generate the scales in the first place?
It feels like it is so much more intuitive to play the scales using the circle of fifths. Much in the same way as this image suggests:
Here, we have a geometric representation for the scale, where CMaj contains the notes FCGDAEB, and it makes a lot more sense. In order to get the rest of the scales, this shape is rotated about the circle and it all works amazingly.
I guess my question is: why do we jump through so many hoops and make life so much harder for ourselves just to make our scales go up sequentially letters-wise? The notes are rarely ever played this way in practice (maybe during practice, but not really in practice, hehe). Is there actually some benefit to the way that we do it (ie. CMaj = CDEFGAB)? or is is really just because "this is the way we have always done it and it's too late to change anything now"?
I guess a logical extension of this idea would be that the Ionian mode shouldn't be the main mode and it would make sense for the Lydian mode to be considered the "major" mode. If that was the case, then learning the scales would be so much easier, because you would only have to remember the one sequence of notes, and then each scale of 7 notes would be a sub-sequence, that is "slid" along the main sequence, like this:
So I guess a sub-question for this is: is there a particular reason the Ionian mode is the main mode? or is that another arbitrary construction that is just "tradition"?
I am reminded of the debate about replacing the mathematical constant Pi with the proposed constant Tau (2*Pi). It would make everything make so much more sense, and it would be so much more elegant, if the circle constant we used was based on its radius as opposed to diameter; but Pi has just been used for so long that it would be too hard to change it now. And it kind of feels this way with this stuff.
Having said all of that, I am still definitely just learning all of this, and I am sure that there are a number of considerations that I haven't taken into account. I am not seriously proposing that music theory should be changed; I am just wondering if there is a proper reason that we do it the way we do, rather than this way, which feels more intuitive.