Lesson 33: Degrees of the Scale

  
Category: Lessons, Music Theory

8: Hot Hot Hot
Creative Commons License photo credit: Pete Morawski

Now that we know how to create a major scale, It may be useful to know the “degrees” of a scale. A degree is the name for the position of the note in the scale.  From previous lessons we already know that a scale has 7 different notes. For the C major scale those notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. In this example C is the first note of the scale, D is the second note, E is the third note… I could go on, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence.

In music theory, each note has a name depending on its position in scale. The first (and most important) note is called the TONIC. In the C major scale example, C is the tonic. That’s easy. The other degrees of the scale are listed below:

  • 1st: TONIC
  • 2nd: SUPERTONIC
  • 3rd: MEDIANT
  • 4th: SUBDOMINANT
  • 5th: DOMINANT
  • 6th: SUBMEDIANT
  • 7th: LEADING NOTE or SUBTONIC

A scale starts and ends on the tonic.

Before I let you go, let us apply this information to the G major scale. First, we will need to build our scale. Remember Lesson 29 where I discuss building a major scale using the formula: TONE-TONE-SEMITONE-TONE-TONE-TONE-SEMITONE. (You’ll be chanting this in your sleep when I’m done with you.) Feel free to go back to review the lesson if necessary – just ignore the part of the lesson where I say that the names are not important.. they are! (kindof)

Our G major scale will end up being: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. So in the G major scale, the degrees are:

  • G: TONIC
  • A: SUPERTONI
  • B: MEDIANT
  • C: SUBDOMINANT
  • D: DOMINANT
  • E: SUBMEDIANT
  • F#: LEADING NOTE

You may wish to practice using other scales.

Just to keep you in the loop, I wanted to let you know that some people use other methods of referring to the degrees of the scale. Other methods include: Roman numerals (I,II, III, IV, V, VI, VII) or solfege (DO, RE, ME, FA, SOL, LA, TI).

It is useful to know the names of the degrees of the scale as you start building chords… For example, a major chord is built using the TONIC, MEDIANT, and DOMINANT. That is a sneak peak to a future lesson! Bonus points to whoever can build a G major chord!

Posted on October 3rd, 2012 by sharlene

1 Comment

  1. JIMMY Says:

    Can you expand this page to include WHY the subdominant is called subdominant?? This is one of the questions people answer wrong a lot. The subdominant was named for being the same interval BELOW the tonic that the dominant is ABOVE the tonic. (The popular wrong answer is because it is just below the dominant.)



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