The Degrees of the Scale

February 4, 2013

understanding music

The Degrees of the Scale

Every major and minor scale has 8 notes. These individual notes are called degrees of the scale. We could number them 1-8, but this would get confusing when we start to talk about other numbers such as beats in a bar, chord numbers and fingering for instruments such as piano or guitar.

Therefore, each degree of the scale is given a technical name:

Note 1 – Tonic
Note 2 – Supertonic
Note 3 – Mediant
Note 4 – Subdominant
Note 5 – Dominant
Note 6 – Submediant
Note 7 – Leading Note
Note 8 – Tonic

Here are the degrees of the scale for a C major scale:

C major Degrees of the Scale

How To Remember The Degrees of the Scale – A 3 Step Process

Remembering the degrees of the scale can be quite tricky. You could make up a rhyme, but the problem is that 3 of the degrees begin with the letter “S”. However, if you follow this 3 step process you should find it a bit easier to remember them:

Step 1. Start by learning the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees:

The 1st is the tonic.
The 5th is 5 above the tonic and so is called the dominant.
The 4th is actually 5 below the tonic (hence the name subdominant – “sub” means below in Latin.
Get these 3 degrees firmly rooted in your mind.

Step 2. Learn the 2 notes next to the tonic:

The supertonic is above the tonic (super=above in Latin).
The Leading Note is below it (play a scale and when you get to the the Leading Note you will hear that it sounds like it “wants to” head back up to the tonic).

Step 3. Learn the “half way notes”:
The Mediant is half way between the tonic and dominant.
The Submediant is half way between subdominant and tonic.

Hope that helps!

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