You might have heard the terms Tonic or Dominant used in describing certain scale degrees but did you know there are more of them? This lesson discusses the names of scales degree and why they are useful to know in a practical sense.

Course Recap

In previous lessons, we looked at the difference between intervals and scale degrees. Interval names such as perfect 5th/major 3rd etc. are based on the concept of scale degrees. Here are the degrees of the C major scale numbered:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B
1   2   3  4   5  6   7 

We add the words perfectmajor, minor, augmented and diminished to give a more accurate description of the interval.

to is a major third interval.
to Eb is a minor third interval.

Intervals are used to measure the distance between any two notes, regardless of the key or scales in use. Scale degrees describe how a note relates to a specific scale or key tonic.

If you need a refresher on this then check out parts one, two and three of the intervals series. 

Naming Scale Degrees

One aspect of scale degrees that can really help with understanding them is learning the names that are often used in place of the numbers. You may have heard the first degree referred to as the tonic before – here are the names of the rest of the degrees:

1st – Tonic
2nd – Supertonic
3rd – Mediant
4th – Subdominant
5th – Dominant
6th – Submediant
7th – Leading Tone

Steps To Memorising The Names

  • Learn that the 5th degree is the dominant. You may have heard this before, especially if you have looked at any chords.
  • Next, learn that the 4th degree is the subdominant. This is easy to remember because it is just below the 5th, hence the word ‘sub’.
  • Learn the 2nd degree next. This is just one step above the tonic and is called the supertonic.
  • Take degrees 3 and 6 after that. 3 is the mediant as it is in the middle between 1 and 5. 6 is the submediant, which makes sense as it is the inversion of a 3rd interval.
  • The leaves the 7th – the leading tone. This is straight forward as it tells us it leads back into the tonic which is the next note in the scale.

These terms are used heavily in conventional study of harmony and music theory. You will have to know these names inside and out if you need to sit any exams. 

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