Circles of 5ths, a clock, and a 12-sided Dice

First a little background: I have a little bit of of a RPG background (Role Playing Game) thanks to various ex-boyfriends and over the years I have collected some of my own dice. During my second year of classroom teaching, I was giving a test on major scales. Because the students were supposed to know them all, I told them that I would be picking the scales they would test randomly for each person. One particularly fair-minded 7th grade student raised his hand and informed me that my process for selecting the scales (just pulling them out of the air) may not be fair and could be seen by some as either favoritism or picking on their known weaknesses. I thought about it for a second and told him that I would come up with a way for the exams to be completely random.



I immediately thought of the 12 sided dice – I mean there’s 12 different notes in music. Make sense to me. Plus I had a few of them just laying around that hadn’t been used for anything in a while. Next I asked myself how I would assign the notes to the numbers…. well, what else has 12 different options? A clock!



So, here’s a picture of the circle of 5ths along side the numbers from a clock. It’s easy to see how they line up. Granted it does help to have the circle of 5ths memorized (something every music student should do) but it’s not hard to figure out. I started using this system both in the classroom and with my private students. A 12 sided dice is easy to come by and are cheap. The possibilities are endless!


Couple of things to note:

  • I chose 12 for C because both are at the “Top” of the circle. Then I went “clock-wise” from there.
  • I keep the same circle regardless of the type of scale I’m working on. I role the dice to decide the root, rather than the “key”. Major, minor, diminished, spanish phrygian… if I rolled an 8, they would all start on Ab.
  • I also keep the circle the same when I’m thinking in 4ths (much more useful for jazz).


Now just the other day I was looking for pictures of 12-sided dice to use with this post and I ran across these. I think they are pretty cool, but a little pricey. Cool gift idea, though.

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