Why do some violin scale books, after starting with C Major and A minor, then work through key signatures up to six flats and then work down from six sharps?


That sequence follows the Circle of Fifths, which is very typical of root movement for chords. This also follows a path of minimal alterations from one scale to the next.

Here are some example chord progressions.

A ii - V - I progression in C would be Dm7 - G7 - C, and in D♭ this progression would be E♭m7 - A♭7 - D♭. If you look at the Circle of Fifths you will notice that the root notes of the chords follow the Circle in both cases.

Another common progression that follows the Circle of Fifths is iii - vi - ii - V - I. This progression obviously contains a ii - V - I, with a couple of chords preceding. In C this would be Em7 - Am7 - Dm7 - G7 - C.

But not only do chords often move in this way, keys also often modulate around the Circle of Fifths. Since adjacent keys on the Circle differ only in one note, they are closely related. For example, C has no sharps or flats, but F has one flat (B♭), and G has one sharp (F♯), B♭ has two flats (B♭ and E♭), and D has two sharps (F♯ and C♯), and so on.

Since it is common for chord roots and keys to follow the Circle of Fifths, it is useful to study scales organized in this sequence. It may also help memorization to have this pattern in your mind.

  • This seems to be a logical approach, but possibly like the OP, I wonder whether learning C, then G (1#), then F (1b), and moving both ways round the circle would be easier. Rather than just going one way. I think ABRSM work thus. – Tim Apr 7 '18 at 6:29
  • @Tim -- that is an interesting point, and I think I agree. In fact, I seem to remember doing just that when I was first learning to spell the major scales: C F and G first, then adding B♭ and D, then adding E♭ and A, and so on. Maybe a book that presents the scales from C through the flat keys and back through the sharp keys is more suited to practicing scales than learning them at first. Of course it is good to practice moving both ways around the Circle, and also good to start from notes other than C. – ex nihilo Apr 7 '18 at 9:35

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