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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.
from DOH through Five steps, inclusive, – do
re me fa so – brings you to the Dominant
technical and boring, but stick with it as
this can really help your understanding of
Once again, we have counted a FIFTH, so this must be a Dominant.
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
Now we have -Tonic(1) 2 Mediant(3) Subdominant(4) Dominant(5) submediant  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;
- 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.
Thinking of learning to play the guitar? Naomi, a professional music teacher, and experienced Guitarist, thinks it’s an absolutely wonderful instrument to learn although it takes dedication and practice. Hopefully her guide Beginner’s guide to the guitar will help you decide whether it is the instrument for you.
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