The Zigzag of Fifths

While I love the Circle of Fifths, it’s not always easy to remember or explain.

The Zigzag of Fifths, which reveals the underlying pattern to key signatures, is an easy-to-remember, easy-to-use, and easy-to-explain alternative to the Circle of Fifths. In this post, I explain how to set up and use the Zigzag of Fifths. 


"This is a fun, fresh new way to visualize the circle of 5ths! ... The world needs more educators that are willing to think outside the box! (or circle)"

- Lisa Witt, Pianote

"I just checked out (and downloaded!) some of your theory apps. The Zigzag of Fifths is genius! Thank you!"
- Cheri, piano teacher


Here’s an overview of the content and key musical concepts covered:

Topic #1: Setting up the Zigzag of Fifths

  • The order sharps and flats are added to key signatures

Topic #2: Creating Note Teams 

  • Key signatures
  • Diatonic chords
  • Scales

Topic #3: Visualizing the Zigzag of Fifths on the Piano 

  • The order of sharps and flats on the piano keyboard

    Activities using the Zigzag of Fifths


    Each topic includes 2 explanations: first, using the note names and second, using Team Stickey characters. View the videos in full-screen mode for the best experience.

    Setting up the Zigzag of Fifths

    To set up the Zigzag of Fifths, start by dividing the notes into a group of 3 notes (C, D, E) and a group of 4 notes (F, G, A, B). Place the group of 3 notes above the group of 4 notes, so that you can zigzag between the notes:

    Adding sharps and flats

    To add sharps, zigzag from left to right. To add flats, zigzag right to left. The complete Zigzag of Fifths looks like this:

    In this video, I walk you through setting up the Zigzag of Fifths using Team Stickey characters.

      Creating Note Teams

      To build a Note Team using the Zigzag of Fifths, select any 3 adjacent notes from one row and the 4 surrounding notes from the opposite row.

      For example, the top half of this image shows the 5-flat Note Team, which includes the notes D-flat, E-flat, F (3 note group) and G-flat, A-flat, B-flat and C (4-note group). The bottom half shows the 4-sharp Note Team - can you figure out which notes belong to the group of 3 and which are in the group of 4?

      Notice how every Note Team has an A, B, C, D, E, F and G; as you move right from the center of the Zigzag, more of these notes become sharp; moving left from center, more become flat.

      This video shows how easy it is to see which notes, chords, and scales belong to every key signature by sliding a window across the Zigzag of Fifths.

      Visualizing the Zigzag of Fifths on the Piano

      Mapping the Zigzag of Fifths to the piano is simple! Watch the back-and-forth pattern between black key groups unfold in these 2 animations.


      The Zigzag of Fifths app is the easiest way to explore using the Zigzag of Fifths to build Note Teams and more! 

      Here's a quick preview of the app, which is available for iOS, android, and Kindle Fire devices:

      For a hands-on alternative to the app, get the Zigzag of Fifths printable resource, which includes the note letters and characters versions:

      Take me to the printable Zigzag of Fifths resource

      Zigzag of Fifths printable resource

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      Categories: : Key Signatures, Music Theory, Piano Teaching