We have covered major and minor scales, also studied the relationship between both. But each note in a scale has its own importance and a certain name. That name is referred to as scale degree which implies the role of that note in that scale. Lets take the key of C major as an example which has the following notes:
C D E F G A B C
Here C, the first note in the scale is called the TONIC. Some people also refer to that as the root note.
The second note is called SUPER TONIC, which in this context is D. ‘Super’ in latin stands for ‘Above’.
The third note is called the MEDIANT. In this example it is E.
The fourth note is called the SUB DOMINANT which is the F.
The fifth note is called the DOMINANT. Notice that the mediant falls right in the middle between the Tonic and the dominant note, hence the name mediant (middle).
The sixth is called the SUBMEDIANT, which in this context is A. Again notice that the submediant sits right in the middle between the subdominant (F) and the tonic (C) of the next octave.
All these 6 degrees are the same for both Major and Minor scales. But the degree of the 7th note is different for both Major and Minor.
In Major key, the seventh note is called the LEADING TONE which in this context is B. Notice that the 7th note is just half step lower than the Tonic (C) and if you play the scale, it has a tendency to lead into the tonic. That is why it is called the LEADING TONE. You can apply these ideas not only for the notes but also for the underlying chords that fall in the key of C.
In the minor key, if we take A minor as an example, which is also the related minor of C major, we have the following notes:
A B C D E F G A
Notice that the 7th note here is G, which is one whole step under the Tonic (A). Therefore it doesn’t have the same characteristic as the leading tone of a major scale. Instead of calling this a leading tone, the degree of the 7th note in minor key is called the SUB TONIC.