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Scale Degrees in Musical Scales

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Until now we've learned to play, practice and recognize a few music scales.(Didn't we? Click here to learn about the different scales.)

Today I'd like us to learn about the different scale degrees. We're gonna use the names of the scale degrees later on in our chord lessons for example and when we talk about voicings so I'd like us to know this issue well.

Each note of a scale has a special name called Scale Degree.

The Tonic

The first note of all musical scales is called the Tonic.
The tonic functions almost always as the starting point and the ending point. It's that special place of the scale where everything begins from and ending up to. It's the last resting point. All the other scale degrees are aiming at the end toward the Tonic in one way or another.

The Tonic in C major

The Dominant

The fifth note of the scale is called the dominant.
Wha'ts so dominant in the dominant?
Well, the dominant that scale degree that directs you toward home. No question about it. It's like a little child who wants to go to bed! NOW!!

The dominant in C major

The Subdominant

The fourth note is called sub-dominant (meaning lower dominant).
This scale degree is serving as a suspension often.
What I mean by that is that its melodic and harmonice duty is to suspence the tension of the melody harmony just before it reaches the unavoidable dominant that will take us to the tonic.

The subdominant in C major

The Mediant

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

The mediant in C major

The Submediant

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

The submediant in C major

The Supertonic

The second nots is called supertonic. Super is latin for "above".

The supertonic in C major

The Leading Tone/ Sub Tonic

The leadingtone in C major

The seventh notes is an exception. We used different terms for different scales.

If the seventh note is a half step below the tonic we name it the leading tone. That's because it leads to the tonic by all means. You can hear the leading tone in the major scales, and in the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

In the natural minor scale, the seventh note is a whole step below the tonic so we don't name it "the leading tone" but subtonic instead.

Since the subtonic is a whole tone below the tonic it lacks the desire to lead into the tonic.

here are all the scale degrees in C major

The scale degrees in C major

Now that we are familiar with the terms it's gonna be easier for us to learn about chord theory. Click here to learn about Piano Chord Theory

Return from Scale Degrees in Musical Scales to Piano Theory.

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