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It’s been 50 years and we still don’t understand this circle drawn by John Coltrane

In 1967 legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane gave the below sketch to his friend Professor Yusuf Lateef. Straight away, musicians may recognise it as a circle of fifths, yet for half a century this drawing has been the subject of neverending scrutiny.

It belies a musical pattern that’s undefinably complex, and Coltrane was silent about it for most of his life.

john coltrane tone circle

What do you see in John Coltrane’s infamous tone circle? As of 2017, the sketch has been around for 50 years without being fully deciphered.

Since it was first published in Lateef’s book Repository of Scales and Musical Patterns, musicians all around the world have attempted to unravel its secrets. And the best they’ve done is guess.

A great read on Open Culture dives into many of the responses to Coltrane’s circle, but the fact of the matter is that they are theories, and no defining solution has ever been gleaned.

So, what do you see in the circle?

Via Open Culture.


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October 16, 2017