Musical Scale Degrees and Intervals - Gary Rebholz % (2023)

Musical Scale Degrees and Intervals - Gary Rebholz % (1)

In our discussion of the major scale (Understanding the major scale is fundamental music theory.) we left out the very important topicsscale degreesymusical intervals. If you haven't read this article yet, now is a good time to do so. You won't understand much of what we're talking about here without the knowledge you get there.

Although scale degrees and musical intervals are related concepts, they are not the same. Both concepts are extremely important. A basic understanding of these concepts (and we'll keep it very simple!) will unlock the mystery of chord construction, song chord progressions, and more.

They will also provide you with valuable language that you will use to communicate and understand other musicians as you begin to collaborate and play with others.

Don't try to understand scale degrees and musical intervals without a good understanding of the major scale:

Understanding the major scale is fundamental music theory.

what do these expressions mean? The concepts are actually quite simple, but again, they are really important. And they can get complex very quickly (especially a discussion of musical intervals), but for now, let's keep it simple. Even this basic understanding will take you far.

musical intervals

We have already talked about some musical intervals. We just don't call it by that name.

Remember that we see this on the major scalePattern that defines the scale:


Regardless of which note you start with, you create a major scale when you use this pattern to move up the chromatic scale.

This pattern includeswhole stepsyhalf steps(hence the Ws and Hs). These steps also have alternative names whereThe full steps areshades yThe half steps aresemitones.

The concept of musical intervals categorizes these steps with other names. Before we go any further, we need to introduce another concept:diatonic tones.

Diatonic and chromatic tones.

Remember that the major scale is just one of many scales built from the chromatic scale. It is the most important scale for Western music, but there are many other possible scales as well.

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The major scale uses seven notes of the chromatic scale. That is, seven of the 12 notes available in each octave. We call these seven tones diatonic tones, or diatonic tones of the major scale. That just means they belong to Libra. We call any off-scale note a chromatic note.

Musical intervals and scale degrees

Now that we understand that, let's go back to musical intervals and scale degrees. What is a musical interval?

In music we call musical interval the distance between two tones. Intervals can be defined in semitones and wholes. For example, the distance between the note C and the note C# is a musical interval of one semitone. The distance between C and D is a whole tone. Each primary key has 56 different intervals.

But the musical intervals between the diatonic notes (the notes of the scale) are special. So special that we mark them with a numbering system. Inputscale degrees.

Since the key of C major is the easiest to understand due to its lack of sharps or flats, we'll use that key and scale for our discussion. Remember that this discussion applies to each key in the same way.

The note C, unsurprisingly, has a special place in the key of C. It is the defining note of the scale and can be known by a variety of names. The technical name isTonic. Although you'll hear this term a lot, so it's worth familiarizing yourself with it, it's the term we use most often.fundamentalthe scale. The C major scale has a single root orThe origin: die C-Note.

Similarly, the G major scale has a G note as its root, the D# major scale has a D# note, and so on.

Name the degrees of the scale

What are the degrees of the scale?

Each note in a scale has a specific position in that scale. We mark these positions with a number. In the major scale we use the numbers from 1 to 7, but other scales have more or less notes and therefore numbers. We can call each of these numbers a scale degree. The first note in the scale has a scale degree of 1. The second note has a scale degree of 2. So one for all the notes in the scale.

In terms of scale degrees, the root has another name, and it isDiea. So the note C is that of the C major scale. It is more commonly written numerically as1, or perhaps in Roman numerals likeyo.

The remaining diatonic notes of the octave, the remaining notes of the scale, are numbered accordingly. So the note D is two (2), E is three (3), and so on up to B, which is seven (7). So you can number the C major scale with its degrees as follows:

Musical Scale Degrees and Intervals - Gary Rebholz % (2)

The en Roman numerals like:

Musical Scale Degrees and Intervals - Gary Rebholz % (3)

name musical intervals

From this information we can form a basic but useful concept of musical intervals. In the major scale we call degree to the distance between the first and the second degree of the scale.seconds(2nd). In other words, a one second interval. More precisely a2 big, but for now we'll just call it 2.

We call the interval from the first to the third degree of the major scale3(a3 bigto be exact). From first to fifth, a5.(aperfect 5to be exact).

Using knowledge about musical intervals and scale levels for communication.

Understanding this can be important when playing with other musicians. If your partner is playing a tune and that tune plays a C note, they may ask you to play a third to add some harmony. You now know the third of C (in the C major scale) as E (see the chart above if necessary). So your partner wants you to play an E.

If your partner plays an E note and calls for a third above it, you can use the scale steps above to find out. For now, think of the E as the 1. The third above E in the C major scale is G, so play a G note to play the harmony of a third above E. The same G note is also the fifth of the C root.

Scale degree numbering

While the concept of musical intervals is important, I think it's even more helpful to understand the concept of scale degrees, so let's review it again. The scale degree of a note simply corresponds to its position on the scale.

The root, as we've already discussed, is 1. It ranks first on the scale. In C major, this is the note C.

In C major, the note D occupies the 2nd spot, so the 2nd E is the 3rd, and so on. Maybe this sounds easy and you're wondering why I'm saying it again. I say this again because understanding and mastering the concept of scale degrees is incredibly helpful. The tables above list the scale degrees in the key of C major.

Remember; Each scale has its scale degrees, but possibly a different number of degrees. For example, the pentatonic scale has only five tones, and therefore five scale degrees. Read more about it in myWhat is the Pentatonic Scale: A Complete ExplorationArticle.

Chord structure from scale degrees.

With a knowledge of scale degrees, you can build just about any chord imaginable. Each chord has a recipe. In the articleLearning to play a string on the guitar is easier than you thinkWe talked about the recipe for a C chord: Combining the notes C, E, and G makes a C chord. But we haven't talked about why that is.

Look again at the degrees of the C major scale. You'll notice that C is 1, E is 3, and G is 5. From this we can extrapolate and see that the recipe for any major chord is scale degrees 1, 3, and 5 played simultaneously.

Every time you play the 1, 3, and 5 of any major scale, you are playing theroot chord of this scale.

And in fact, if you select a note and momentarily look at the 1, you can add the 3 and 5 of the major scale to that note to make a major chord.

The last sentence sounds confusing even as I type it, so let's take a few examples.

Form a G major chord

Let's say you're in the key of C and you want to play a G major chord, but you don't necessarily know which notes to combine to make the chord. First, make a temporary mental shift to the G major scale (since you want to make a G chord). The G major scale includes the notes:


Now use your knowledge of scale degrees to find the other notes you need for the chord.

G is 1. You know you need the 3 and 5 to complete the major chord. You also know (or can find out using the major scale recipe) that the third note in the G scale is B and the fifth note is D. So, to make a G major chord, play G, B, and D at the same time.

Form an E major chord

Do the same to find an E major chord. The notes of the E major scale are:


You can easily see that E is 1, G# is 3, and B is 5. Play those three notes together and you'll have E major.

And this system works for any major chord. Simply build the major scale based on the root that represents the chord you want to build, and use your knowledge of scale degrees to identify the notes you need to add to make the major chord.

An interesting side observation

If you look back at the G and E chord recipes we just discovered, you might notice something interesting.

Note that the three notes (or scale tones) that make up the G chord also exist in the C major scale. However, the E chord has one note that is not common to the C major scale: the G#.

What does that tell us? We'll talk more about chords in other articles, so I won't go too deep here, but essentially this shows us that the G major chord fits comfortably in a song in the key of C major. Why? because the three notes that make up a G chord - G, B, and D - are all notes in the C major scale.

Similarly, a C major chord fits comfortably into a song in the key of G major. A C major chord uses the notes do, mi, and sol. All three notes are in the G major scale.

The E chord, on the other hand, may not fitconvenientin a song in the key of C major. An E major chord uses the notes E, G #, and B flat. This G# is not in the C major scale, so the E major chord with C major might feel a bit off.

Awkward doesn't mean "wrong"

Note that I said "convenient" above. One important thing about music theory rules: like other rules, sometimes they are worth breaking. And breaking the rules of music theory can often result in some of the most interesting and creative music out there.

Although the E major chord doesn't "belong" to the key of C major, writers are free to do what they want, so you will actually find E chords in some songs based on C major. Inserting an off-scale chord can add something realunexpected interestto the song. Just like using a chromatic note (a note outside of the scale you're using) adds an interesting twist to a melody. We'll talk about concepts like this in future articles.

Scale degrees are not only useful for simple major chords

Major chords, as we've discussed here, are among the easiest chords to create, but you can create any other chord, even the most elaborate guitar chords, with the same basic knowledge of musical intervals and scale degrees. We'll save more complicated discussions for future articles, but now you have a good foundation for understanding chord construction.

Why put that crap about musical intervals and scales in your head?

I know; You already have enough to think and remember. You tooYes reallyDo you have to know what it takes to play the guitar? No, honestly not. You could just memorize it to remember how to play a G major, a C major, and any other chord. Or you can just use chord charts to see where to place your fingers to create the chords you need.

But I'm convinced that knowing how these things come together will make you fastest guitarist. It is only natural that at first you may feel that these technical rules are just going over your head. But in truth, understanding topics like scale degrees and musical intervals can't make it all one.betterguitarist, but abut creativeguitarist too.

Knowing these concepts gives you the freedom to venture into wild and creative new territory while maintaining a sense of where you are and where you are going.

It is like a walk through the desert. You don't need to know east and west, and you don't need to bring a compass or know how to use it. You can go hiking without this "junk" in your head.

But if you stray too far from the known path without knowing this, you can get hopelessly lost, so you will tend to stay on the known path. It is the difference between an adventure and a walk.

You should also ask yourself if you are happy to stay on the music track you know or if you would like tothe knowledge and tools that give you the confidenceto embark on some musical adventures into territories he's never ventured into before.


As you have seen, musical intervals and scale degrees are related, but they are not exactly the same.

These concepts give you a common language that you can use to communicate with other musicians. They facilitate musical collaboration.

But they do much more than that: they give you the tools to understand chord construction. You can use this knowledge to build anything from a simple major triad (a major chord with just three notes) to the most sophisticated jazz chord you can imagine.

We'll talk more about scale degrees and musical intervals in other articles. Here we have only scratched the surface of using these concepts to build chords.

And we haven't even touched on the idea of ​​chord progressions. But even for such discussions, he is armed with his knowledge of scale gradations and musical intervals.


What are the 7 scale degrees? ›

Each note of a major scale is also named with scale-degree names : tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, and leading tone.

What is scale degrees in music theory? ›

Scale degrees are the number values assigned to the steps of the musical scale. In typical seven note scales like the major scale and minor scale, the scale degrees are numbered from 1 to 7, beginning on the tonic and ending on the leading tone.

What is the major scale formula? ›

Major Scales

Play 2 whole steps, a half step, 3 more whole steps, and another half step to make a major scale. To summarize, the formula for a major scale is W, W, H, W, W, W, H.

How many scales are there in music? ›

There are 12 major scales and 12 natural minor scales that can be played on a standard 88-key piano. Each major and minor scale has its own unique sequence of intervals between each note in the scale.

What are the major scales in order? ›

How many major scales are there? There are twelve major scales, just like there are twelve chromatic notes! These are A, Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, and Ab.

What are the 7 musical scale notes? ›

In the chromatic scale there are 12 tones including 7 natural musical notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) and 5 sharp/flat notes ( A#/Bb, C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, and G#/Ab). They each represent a different frequency or pitch.

What are the four types of scales in music? ›

The chromatic scale (twelve notes) The whole-tone scale (six notes) The pentatonic scale (five notes) The octatonic or diminished scales (eight notes)

What are the 3 different types of scales explain? ›

From the least to the most mathematical, the scale types are nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. Nominal scales have no arithmetic properties. Ratio scales have all three of the arithmetic properties. Or- dinal and interval scales fall in between nominal and ratio scales.

What are the perfect intervals? ›

Perfect intervals are the unison, fourth, fifth, and octave. They occur naturally in the major scale between scale note 1 and scale notes 1, 4, 5, and 8.

What are the 3 major scales? ›

You should already know the scales of C, D, G and F major which are covered in Grade One Music Theory. In Grade Two ABRSM there are three new major scales which you need to know: A, Bb and Eb major.

What is the most common scale in music? ›

The most common scales in Western music contain seven pitches and are thus called “heptatonic” (meaning “seven tones”). Other scales have fewer notes—five-note “pentatonic” scales are quite common in popular music.

What scale is most music in? ›

Pentatonic (five-note) scales are used more widely than any other scale formation. In fact, Western art music is one of the few traditions in which pentatonic scales do not predominate.

What are the 12 notes in the musical scale? ›

Western music typically uses 12 notes – C, D, E, F, G, A and B, plus five flats and equivalent sharps in between, which are: C sharp/D flat (they're the same note, just named differently depending on what key signature is being used), D sharp/E flat, F sharp/G flat, G sharp/A flat and A sharp/B flat.

Which major scale should I learn first? ›

The C major scale is an absolute must for guitarists and musicians in general. It's considered the easiest key for musicians to learn because it doesn't contain any confusing sharp or flat notes.

How do you know if a scale is major or minor? ›

The defining difference between C major and A minor is that the tonal center of C major is C and the tonal center of A minor is A. This means that, in C major, chords and melodies will tend to return to rest on the C note, whereas in A minor they will tend to resolve and rest on the A note.

What are the 12 major scales in band? ›

Major Scales - SYMPHONIC BAND (ONE octave for testing)
  • Flute Scales.
  • Oboe Scales.
  • Bassoon Scales.
  • Clarinet Scales.
  • Bass Clarinet Scales.
  • Alto-Baritone Saxophone Scales.
  • Tenor Saxophone Scales.
  • Trumpet - Baritone TC Scales.

What are the 48 scales in music? ›

Definition 1: Counted If It is a Major or Minor Scale

There are 12 major scales – one for each of the 12 notes in an octave. There are 3 types of minor scales: natural, harmonic and melodic, so 3* 12 =36 minor scales. This gives a total of 48 scales.

What is the rule of 7 in music? ›

7. Never omit any note of a triad or seventh chord except the fifth – and only omit the fifth when you must do so in order to follow rule 1. These principles assume that you have written with the correct ranges and that all the chords actually contain the notes you say they do.

What is a musical scale for dummies? ›

Scales in music are a collection of notes played one after another following a set pattern of intervals. The pattern defines the quality of the scale and repeats with the same set of pitches at each octave.

What are the first 5 notes of a scale called? ›

The first (and last) note is called the tonic. The fifth note is called the dominant. The fourth note is called the subdominant. Notice that the subdominant is the same distance below the tonic as the dominant is above it (a generic fifth).

What are the five major scales in music? ›

The 5 Major Scale Positions
  • C Major Scale, 1-4-6 Position.
  • C Major Scale, 2-4 Position.
  • C Major Scale, 2-5 Position.
  • C Major Scale, 3-5 Position.
  • C Major Scale, 1-3-6 Position.
Sep 4, 2013

What are the 4 types of scales with examples? ›

The four scales of measurement
  • Nominal scale of measurement.
  • Ordinal scale of measurement.
  • Interval scale of measurement.
  • Ratio scale of measurement.
Jan 30, 2020

What is an example of interval scale? ›

An interval scale is one where there is order and the difference between two values is meaningful. Examples of interval variables include: temperature (Farenheit), temperature (Celcius), pH, SAT score (200-800), credit score (300-850).

How many types of scales are there in music theory? ›

There are 48 musical scales that are used in most musical compositions. Those 48 musical scales are made up of major and minor forms. There are 12 different major scales. There are also three forms of minor scales.

What is the devil's interval in music? ›

The Unsettling Sound Of Tritones, The Devil's Interval In music theory, the tritone is an interval of three whole steps that can sound unresolved and creepy. Over time, the sound has wound up in jazz, rock and even Broadway musicals.

How do you memorize intervals? ›

A common way to recognize intervals is to associate them with reference songs that you know well. For example, the song Amazing Grace begins with a perfect fourth. So when you hear an interval that sounds like the 2 first notes of Amazing Grace, you know instantly that it's a Perfect 4th.

What is the most common interval? ›

The most common enharmonic intervals are the diminished fifth and the augmented fourth, shown below. These two intervals divide the octave into two equal parts. These intervals contain three whole steps, for this reason these intervals are referred to as the tritone.

What are the 8 notes on the musical scale? ›

These are the eight notes of the octave. On a C scale, the notes from low to high would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. But in a scale, some steps are larger than others.

What are the five most common scales? ›

5 Guitar Scales That'll Boost Your Guitar Skills
  • Minor pentatonic scale. This is the most versatile scale out there by far and the one most people learn first. ...
  • Major pentatonic scale. ...
  • Blues scale. ...
  • Major scale. ...
  • Minor guitar scale.
Jul 25, 2019

How many notes in a key? ›

Like many musical scales, it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note (from Latin "octavus", the eighth).

Is there an app that can identify notes? ›

Find the Note Pitch Detector uses your device's mic to identify musical notes. The frequency and current musical note are displayed on your screen. Simple and easy to use.

What is the 7 note scale? ›

heptatonic scale, also called Seven-note Scale, or Seven-tone Scale, musical scale made up of seven different tones. The major and minor scales of Western art music are the most commonly known heptatonic scales, but different forms of seven-tone scales exist.

What is the 7th degree called? ›

While the scale degrees for the first six notes are the same for both major and minor scales, the seventh one is special. If the seventh note is a half step below the tonic, it is called a leading tone. If the seventh note is a half step below the tonic, it is called a leading note (or “leading tone”).

What are the 7 diatonic scales? ›

The seven names are (I) tonic, (II) supertonic, (III) mediant, (IV) subdominant, (V) dominant, (VI) submediant, and (VII) leading tone. The diatonic scale, as a model, is contrasted with the chromatic scale of 12 pitches, corresponding to the white and black notes of the piano keyboard considered together.

What is the 7 chord in major scale? ›

The seventh chord is B – D – F – A, a diminished triad and a minor seventh. Therefore, it is a half-diminished seventh chord. The eighth chord is a repetition of the first (C – E – G – B), making it a major seventh chord.

Why is it called diatonic? ›

The word "diatonic" comes from the Greek διατονικός, meaning progressing through tones.

What are the 7 keys in music? ›

In Western music, there are seven such scales, and they are commonly known as the modes of the major scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian).

What is the difference between diatonic and pentatonic? ›

In contrast to diatonic chords which stack minor thirds and major thirds, pentatonic chords stack major thirds and perfect fourths. Chords containing chromatic notes can also be constructed analogously to the diatonic scale.

What is the degree of 0 called? ›

Constant Polynomial

What is the 2nd scale degree called? ›

The supertonic is the second degree of the scale. Not every scale has a supertonic. For example, a scale like the minor pentatonic scale does not have a second degree. Therefore, there is no supertonic in the minor pentatonic scale.

What is the 8th degree called? ›

Degree 7 – septic (or, less commonly, heptic) Degree 8 – octic. Degree 9 – nonic. Degree 10 – decic.

What chords go with D major? ›

The D Major chords are:
  • I, or the D Major chord.
  • ii, or the E minor chord.
  • iii, or the F# minor chord.
  • IV, or the G major chord.
  • V, or the A major chord.
  • vi, or the B minor chord.
  • vii, or the C# diminished.
Jul 21, 2021

How many chords in A scale? ›

Chord Structure

Any major scale is associated with a set of seven chords - three major, three minor, one diminished.

What is the 7 chord formula? ›

The formula for a major 7th chord is major third, minor third, and another major third. The second way to think about building a major 7th chord is to just add a major 7th interval to an existing major chord. G, A, B, C, D, E, and F# are the notes in the G major scale.


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