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MUSICAL MNEMONICS AND NAMING THE SCALE

By Gerry Jones of Liverpool Country Dance Band


 

Naming the Scale;  you may hear musicians using very odd names for the notes of a scale. We are so used to using do, re, mi, fa... etc., but  music students soon find they have to refer to the notes of the scale according to the job that particular note does in the scale.

Doh is called the TONIC; it is the “home” note of the scale, then start and the finish; it provides the basic musical sound from which all the other notes follow.

Soh is the “next one”, believe it or not; it is called the DOMINANT, as it is the nearest thing that a Scale has got to having a “half-way-point”.

It is the second most important note in the scale in ways I will explain later.  (That is why I  bring it in straight after “Doh” )

A “FIFTH” comes next in our understanding.  Take any note you like, and call it Doh (or TONIC) then count up the alphabet five letters, inclusive and the one you land on will be the Dominant, or Soh.   This is why we say that the Doh and Soh  are “a fifth apart” , and this gap is called an INTERVAL.

C   D    E    F    G    A    B    C

1   2    3    4    5     6    7    8 

 
In the scale of C , the first and last notes (1 and 8)  are the TONIC  (Doh)  Count up from C, 1,2,3,4,5.   and there you are on G, the Dominant.

Counting up from DOH through Five steps, inclusive, – do re me fa so – brings you to the Dominant
e.g. C D E F G showing that C is the Tonic and G is the Dominant of the scale of C.

(Very technical and boring, but stick with it as this can really help your understanding of music!)

The next step is to count FIVE BACKWARDS from the Tonic, downwards in pitch do ti la so fa (8 7 6 5 4th note of the scale) e.g. C B A G F

Once again, we have counted a FIFTH, so this must be a Dominant.

But because we already have a Dominant [G], and because we are counting Downwards this note we reach, the Fourth note of the scale, must be called the SUBdominant

 

So now we have Tonic    2     3    Subdominant  Dominant   6     7    Tonic
                                 1       2     3               4                    5           6     7         8           


See below for an explanation of the other notes and remember that this system will make sense for you of every scale in the book!


NAMING THE SCALE ; THE OTHER NOTES, the second and seventh in the scale.

Now we have -Tonic(1) 2 Mediant(3) Subdominant(4) Dominant(5) submediant [6] 7 Tonic (8)

These “leftovers” have their uses, but they do not figure in the Grand Scheme of Things but we had better call them something, so here we go;

Note Two is ABOVE the Tonic – so we will call it the SUPERtonic. (Sounds very grand)

Note Seven; “Ti – a drink with jam and bread, that will LEAD you back to Doh”

so we call it The LEADING note, because that is what is (almost) always does.
 

 

 

NAMING THE SCALE   ;  THE MEDIANT ; this is an easy one, and there is a clue in the name – it is in the middle.

Tonic    2    3     4   Dominant.   so note 3  (“mi”) is the absolute middle point between Tonic and Dominant, so we call it the mediant.

 
But we have also found “another dominant” – the downward-counting SUBdominant.

So there must be a “half-way” note there, another Mediant,     8   7   6   5   4   

Tonic   7    6      5    Subdominant.   

so note 6  (“la”) is the absolute middle point between (upper)Tonic and SUBdominant, so we call it the SUBmediant.

 

 

“When Music teachers give out 100 Lines”

 
When I was teaching music in secondary schools,  the Lines I used to to give were always one of  the following mnemonics and was in itself the most useful little item I ever learned, for understanding written music.
 
 

Father  Charles Goes Down And  Ends Battle.”  

or its reverse version

Battle   Ends   And  Down   Goes  Charles  Father”

 
On a keyboard, all these letters are FIFTHS apart, and link so many things together.   Here are some examples;
 

- B7 chord leads you home to E.  

- E7 chord leads you to  A.   

- A7 brings you do D. 

- D7 leads to C

- D7 leads to G (think; Down Goes)

- G7  leads to C (think;  Down Goes Charles...)

- C7 to F,   

- F7 to Bb,  

- Bb7 to Eb   etc. ...

 

 
- if your write the first line twice, above and below, offset by two letters....

      F     C  G    D   A    E    B   F#   C#

             0  1    2    3    4    5    6     7
                 F    C    G    D    A   E     B
 

... you can see how many Sharps are used/need in any given sharp key (Signature) and which sharps they are.

      e.g. The key of E major needs 4 sharps and they are  F  C  G  D

 
-  a similar exercise with the “Battle Ends”  sequence will sort out all your Flats for you.
 
-  this explains the left-hand buttons of a piano accordion, which are laid out in “Father Charles “  order.

Each Letter has its own diagonal of Bass Notes, Major then minor then 7th then diminished chords,

meaning that the PRIMARY CHORDS of each key are simply next door to each other, either side of their Tonic.
(Row One is actually the Mediant notes, with the Tonics on Row Two.)
 
Keep looking and digging,  and these two little mnemonics will keep explaining more mysteries.

 

 

 

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