Scale Degree Names Explained For Parents

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Feb 15, 2024 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2020
Edited by Isobel Murphy
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Read time: 3.1 Min

When musical notes are grouped and arranged in descending or ascending order of pitch, it is called a scale.

Each scale is marked by something called a scale degree. Scale degrees are measured by how far the given note's pitch is from the note at the scale's start.

The names of the scale degrees are one of the most important things in music theory, they are important in both major and minor scales. Children are easily confused by the concept though, and many parents struggle to help if they aren't from musical backgrounds. We will explain all the different scale degree names for parents to help you understand and teach your child; making it an entertaining learning experience for all.

To help children remember these names, we would suggest using a mnemonic such as, Today Some Musicians Should Develop Scale Learning. Why not try making up your own?

To learn more about different names, take a look at these royal surnames or these Icelandic surnames.

Scale Degree Names

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First Scale Degree: Tonic

The first scale degree is called the tonic. It is also known as the keynote because it is the most pivotal note in the scale. Any seven note scale (diatonic scale) begins with the tonic, and other degree names are based on their position in relation to the tonic.

Second Scale Degree: Supertonic

The next degree in a seven note scale is called the supertonic. The supertonic is just above the tonic in the note scale.

Third Scale Degree: Mediant

Mediant, Latin for 'middle' is the third degree. Despite not being one of the middle scale degrees, it has this name because the first, third and fifth degrees form the triad chord. The third degree is the middle triad chord, so it is called the Mediant.

Fourth Scale Degree: Subdominant

The fourth on the list of scale degrees is called the subdominant. The subdominant is below the fifth note (called dominant). The word 'sub ' in Latin means below, and hence, the fourth note is called subdominant.

Fifth Scale Degree: Dominant

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Dominant is the fifth degree amongst the scale degrees and is found above the subdominant. The dominant chord has a lot of harmony around it. This is why the dominant always tends to change its resolution to the tonic. In music theory, dominant is regarded as the second most significant degree after tonic.

Sixth Scale Degree: Submediant

The sixth degree out of the scale degrees is called the submediant. Sub, in Latin meaning below, is used for this degree on a music scale.  The submediant is located a third (a mediant) below the tonic and hence, it is called the Submediant.

Seventh Scale Degree:  Leading Tone

The seventh scale degree is a unique note.  The scale degrees remain the same in the case of both major and minor scales up to the seventh, but the seventh degree has a different name and position in a major scale compared to in a minor scale. This degree is called the leading tone in a major scale and it is only a half step below the tonic. When you play on a major scale, the leading tone will lead you to the tonic. However, in the case of a natural minor scale, this seventh note is compressed. It is then is known as the subtonic.

Kidadl has lots of great name articles to inspire you. If you liked our list of scale degree names then why not take a look at these musical baby names, or for something different take a look at these names that mean happy.

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

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Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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