Scale Degrees

Scale degrees refer to particular notes within a scale, with respect to the tonic. The tonic is the first note of a scale (what I referred to as the base note previously), and is considered the most important note. All the interval patterns I spoke of in the major scale and minor scale lessons were based on the intervals between the notes from the tonic.

After the tonic there is the supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, and then the leading tone¬†or subtonic. Whether the last note is called the leading tone or the subtonic depends on the interval between that note and the tonic of the octave above. If this interval is a semitone the note is called a leading tone, whereas if it is a tone it’s called a subtonic.

Leading tone

Leading tone

Here’s an example of a C major scale. As discussed in the lesson on major scales, the interval pattern is TTSTTTS. Note how the last interval, i.e. the B and the C is a semitone apart. This means that for the C major scale, and in fact all major scales, the 7th note is called the leading tone.



For the C natural minor scale however, the interval pattern is TSTTSTT. As the 7th note is a tone below the next tonic, it is called a subtonic.

Now try to work out whether the 7th note in harmonic and melodic minor scales is referred to as leading tones, or subtonics. Remember, the determining factor is the interval between the 7th note and the tonic of the octave above.

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