Intro to Scales #3: Scale Degrees (Part 2)

Imagine being a wee cave lad and seeing a meteor explode in the atmosphere of the night sky with a bright flash of green.  

Running to your cave mom and cave dad, you would struggle to express what you had seen.  You saw a meteor, you saw it enter the atmosphere, where you saw it explode.  

You saw all of these things, but have no word for them.  Thus, you are relegated to flailing your arms and grunting, missing all of the subtle details of what you experienced.

This metaphor is silly, but it also is one that can be reused to express why learning music theory is important in the first place.  If something happens, but you don't have the word by which it is called, how can you reference it again?

The act of labeling something allows us to recall this object in our minds and smash it together with other objects.

This is our brains processing our thoughts and it is beautiful.

So what does this have to do with scale degrees?

They have a name, and you didn't even think to ask.  You just jumped right in, talking about your damn whiskey of the month club again.  So rude.

Like the number attached to each degree of the scale, there is a name that goes with it:
I        - TONIC




V       - DOMINANT



These names will mean more in the future, but it is enough to know that each will have its own characteristic function.  

Ever felt like saying "You're such a Tiffany" or "That is just such a Chad thing to say"?  Well, the same goes for scale degrees.

For now, we will focus on the Tonic, Dominant, and Leading Tone.

TONIC This is the most important.  It defines the scale, the notes, and relative alterations, and is the center around which all melody and harmony will be based.  Real big shot, this guy.

DOMINANT This is almost as important as the Tonic.  It is the most stable in relation to the Tonic, and moving from the Dominant to the Tonic creates a resolution.  

This starts the basis of harmony and why chords want to go where they want to go.  

I to V to I, and everything in between those destinations, is how chord progressions work and create the sense that the song is moving somewhere.

LEADING TONE  This is also very important.  Because it is only a semitone away from the Tonic, it pulls strongly towards it for resolution.  

Try playing the C Major scale but stopping on the B.  

Then finally play that C.  

The sound of C Major has been established in your ear, so playing that B might bug you a bit to go ahead and play that last note in the scale to finish things off.  

A strange and wonderful phenomenon that, when used properly, can make your music far more interesting.  

A sentence spoken is understood and appreciated more by the listener if it is finished.  The Leading Tone helps to build tension to be resolved.

Music theory and its concepts are self-referential.  

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, in this way, it is analogous to meme culture.  A single meme can contain so many levels of references, and even combinations of other memes, and all this must be previously understood by the viewer to truly appreciate what they are seeing.  

With every lesson in this journey we've undertaken, this will become clearer and clearer.

Head over to the EXERCISES here and cover these topics:

Previous article in this chapter:

Intro to Scales #2: Scale Degrees (Part 1)

Next article in this chapter:

Intro to Scales #4: Major Key Signatures

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Lazer Monk

Lazer Monk

Hamilton, Ont