Teach Yourself Music Theory – 16.) Calling Pitches by Scale-Degree Name

Today’s topic is more so about covering jargon used in music than actually understanding of music. However, the use of this terminology can help clear-up some confusion from previous lessons as well as aid in helping understand the next lessons.

When we talked about the major and natural minor scales, we talked about how they are made up of 7 different pitch classes with a repeat at the octave. Previously, we have just been calling the pitches of the scale just by there ascending number.

So, for example: we call the second note of the scale the second degree.

Well, there are some specific names for those pitches that make up the scales:

Now, going back to our previous example: when referring to the second scale degree of the major or natural minor scale, we would say the “supertonic” of the scale.

To further drill-in this terminology, let’s review the major pentatonic scale.

Remember that the major pentatonic scale has the same pitch class collections as the major scale… but 2 pitches less (hence how “penta” means “five”).

What scale degree names are in common with the major scale AND the major pentatonic scale?

Looking at the chart above, it would be:

  • The tonic
  • Supertonic
  • Mediant
  • Dominant
  • and submediant

And there you! That’s how you name pitches by their scale-degree names.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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