Scale Degrees (Music Theory Lesson)

Scale Degrees (Music Theory Lesson)

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Each note of a scale has a special name, called a scale degree.

The first (and last) note is called the tonic.

The fifth note is called the dominant.

The fourth note is called the subdominant.
Notice that the subdominant is the same distance below the tonic as the dominant is above it (a generic fifth).
The prefix sub is Latin for ''under'' or ''beneath''.

The third note is called the mediant since it is in the middle of the tonic and dominant.

Likewise, the sixth note is called the submediant since it is in the middle of the upper tonic and subdominant.

The second note is called the supertonic. Super is Latin for ''above''.

While the scale degrees for the first six notes are the same for both major and minor scales, the seventh one is special.

If the seventh note is a half step below the tonic, it is called a leading tone.

Play the C Major Scale, notice how the seventh note wants to lead into the tonic.

Leading tones also occur in harmonic minor and melodic minor.

In natural minor, the seventh note is a whole step below the tonic. In this case, the note is called a subtonic.

Play the C Natural Minor scale, notice how the seventh tone lacks the desire to lead into the tonic.

A number with a caret may also be used to indicate a scale degree.

For example, the dominant of a scale (G in the above example), may be labelled as a 5 with a caret.

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