Scale Degrees -- Building Blocks

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Quick Review -- The Major Scale.  The major scale consists of just 7 notes from any chromatic scale -- and just like the chromatic scale notes, major scale notes are strung together in order.  Again, this is the "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do" you already have in your head.  For more about the major scales and how to create them, go to The Major Scale -- Just Seven Notes.

OK, So What Are Scale Degrees?  This is stupidly simple:  Since the major scale consists of 7 notes, and since -- regardless of key -- the relationships between are often important, each note is given a number called its "scale degree."  Since somebody started using the term "degree," and since the term occasionally pops up, we should know the term.   But really, a note's degree is simply its numerical order position in the particular scale.

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The Easiest Major Scale -- C.  Again, let's use the easiest scale -- no sharps or flats -- to illustrate.  Remember, this simple concept applies equally to all 12 major scales.

Here are the scale degrees for the C major scale.   Pretty simple, eh?  Just call the root note -- the name of the scale itself -- number 1, and count to 7.  Nothing to it.

So if somebody says, "Hey, what's the third note of the C scale?"  you can answer "E."

Major Scale C D E F G A B
Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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Scale Degrees Also Offer A Shorthand Way To Refer To Chords.  Good guitar players often speak a funny language to each other, which seems to help them quickly figure out how to play a song together.  You might hear someone say, "This one is in C, and it's a simple 1-5-4-5-1 progression."   (Sometimes, Roman numerals are used.)

As we'll see in Chord-Building Basics, chords are built from and around scales.  In fact, you can play a scale in chords rather than single notes.   The "1 chord" is C, the "4 chord" is F, and the "5 chord" is G.  So a 1-5-4-5-1 chord progression means you play the chords in this order:  C - G - F - G - C.

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Advanced Degrees.  Because jazz players apparently aren't satisfied with using 7 degrees, there are also 9th, 11th and 13th degrees.  You'll probably never need to worry about them, and we'll deal with them separately.

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Why Should I Care About Degrees?  Because knowing about them gives you the basic tools for building chords and chord progressions, which are necessary to play songs.

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Next, Chord-Building Basics.  There you'll see the degrees in use.