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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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3. Keys, Scales & Technical Names

Grade 4 Music Theory Lesson 3: Keys, Scales and Technical Names for Notes


Technical names

Each note of a scale can be given a number from 1-7. For example, in the key of C major, C=1, D=2 and so on. These are called the "degrees of the scale".

For grade 4 music theory, you need to know about the degrees of the scale and you also need to learn the technical name for each degree of the scale. Here they are: 

1st= Tonic

2nd= Supertonic

3rd= Mediant

4th= Subdominant

5th= Dominant

6th= Submediant

7th = Leading Note 


Here are the notes and technical names in the key of F major:

F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E
Tonic   Supertonic   Mediant   Subdominant   Dominant   Submediant   Leading Note


In the exam, the harmonic version of the minor scale is used to work out the technical names (rather than the melodic version). Here are the notes and technical names in the key of F minor: 

F  G  Ab  Bb  C  Db  E natural
Tonic   Supertonic   Mediant   Subdominant   Dominant   Submediant   Leading Note


It might help you to learn these names if you look at what the words actually mean.

  • The dominant is the most important note after the tonic (because these two notes work together to help fix the key of a piece). It's 5 notes higher than the tonic.
  • The subdominant is the next most important note after the dominant. It is 5 notes lower than the tonic (which is why it's called the "sub"="lower" dominant.
  • The word "mediant" is connected to the word "middle". The mediant note is midway between the tonic and the dominant. It's 3 notes higher than the tonic.
  • The submediant is midway between the tonic and the subdominant. It's 3 notes lower than the tonic. (Remember, "sub-" = lower).
  • The supertonic is "one more than" the tonic. It's one note higher than the tonic.
  • The leading note is one note below the tonic. This note is called the leading note because it is very often followed by the tonic when used in a melody - so it generally "leads to the tonic". 



In grade four you need to know the keys (key signature and scales) of all the major and minor keys, up to and including 5 sharps or 5 flats. 

Grade three took us up to all keys with 4 sharps/flats, so we only have four new keys to learn in this grade - those that contain 5 sharps or flats in the key signature. They are:

  • B major (5 sharps)
  • G# minor (5 sharps)
  • Db major (5 flats)
  • Bb minor (5 flats)

The sharps, in order, are F#, C#, G#, D# and A#. Here are the key signatures in treble and bass clef:



The flats, in order, are Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and Gb:


 Don't forget that to write a key signature correctly, the flats/sharps have to be in right order and also in the right position on the stave. 

  • Notice that the sharps start high up on the stave. The second sharp is lower, and the third sharp is higher. The last three sharps are one below the other. Flats are written starting on the middle line (treble clef) or low on the stave (bass clef). They make a simple up/down pattern. Remember that key signature sharps and flats always appear on the stave itself - never on a ledger line!
  • Remember that a quick way to identify sharp key signatures is to look at the final sharp in the signature - this will be the leading note of the major key. So if the last sharp is A#, the key will be B major, because A# is the 7th degree of the scale of B major.
  • A quick way to identify flat key signatures is to look at the last-but-one flat in the key signature - this will be the major key. So if the last-but-one flat in the key signature is Db, then the key is Db major. 
  • The relative minor key for each key signature can be found by working out the submediant note of the major key (6th degree of the scale). So if the major key is B major, the 6th note is G#, which means the relative minor is G# minor. If the major key is Db major, the 6th note is Bb, so the relative minor key is Bb minor.


Major Scales

Here are the major scales of B and Db for you, written with accidentals. Don't forget that the pattern of tones and semitones (whole and half steps) in a major scale is always T-T-S-T-T-T-S. You can use this pattern for reference if you forget which notes need accidentals.


B major:




Db major:





 Minor Scales

As in grade 3, you need to know both types of minor scale - the harmonic and melodic.

The scale of G# minor uses a double sharp - the leading note (7th degree of the scale) is Fds. The enharmonic equivalent of this note is G natural, but you must not write G natural in the scale of G# minor - remember that each letter name can only be used once!

Don't forget that in a harmonic minor scale, the leading note (7th degree of the scale) is always raised by a semitone (half step) by using an accidental, even if you use a key signature for the scale.

In a melodic minor ascending scale, both the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale (submediant and leading note) are raised by a semitone (half step). But in a melodic minor descending scale, none of the notes need to be raised. 


Here are the minor scales of G# and Bb.


G# minor harmonic:




G# minor melodic:




Bb minor harmonic:




Bb minor melodic:



 For a complete list of all scales, see the Table of Scales.



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