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Degrees indicate the functions of the notes of a key. Each degree corresponds to a number and a function name.
The degrees of a key correspond to the position of the note in the scale.
For example, in C major, the Ist degree is C, the IInd is D, the IIIrd is E, and so on, until the VIIth, which is B. When we return to C, we get back to the Ist degree.
Be careful, this is true only in C major. When changing the key (so the scale), we must start from the first note of the scale to count the corresponding degrees. Thus, in G major, the Ist degree is G, the IInd is A, the IIIrd is B, and so on, until the VIIth which is F. When we return to G, we get back to the Ist degree.
The degree is therefore relative to the key in which we are.
Degrees and harmony
At each degree corresponds a harmony, that is to say a three-note chord built on the degree in question, by a stack of thirds.
The following table shows the harmonies of each degrees of a major key. Degrees I, IV, and V form perfect major chords while degrees II, III, and VI form minor perfect chords. This means that, whatever the major key considered, the harmony of the IVth degree will always be major, while that of the IInd degree will always be minor.
|Degree||Nature of the resulting chord|
|I||Major perfect chord|
|II||minor perfect chord|
|III||minor perfect chord|
|IV||Major perfect chord|
|V||Major perfect chord|
|VI||minor perfect chord|
Degrees are functions
Why number the notes of a scale? In fact, the degrees indicate the functions of the notes.
To understand this concept, let's make a small comparison with the language. In English, words have a nature and a function. For example, in the sentence "This flower is beautiful", the word "flower" is a name: it is its nature. The word "flower" is the subject of the sentence: it is its function. Let's take another sentence: "I like this flower". In this second sentence, the word "flower" is still a name: its nature has not changed. On the other hand, its function is in this case Direct Object. We thus see that the same word (or nominal group) can have different functions, without changing its nature.
Last update on 2021/05/07
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