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I am familiar with the degree names: tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc but not sure of their use in minor keys. Let's consider C major and minor.

Some are clear, the dominant and subdominant will be G and F in both.

The mediant is E in C major, is it E♭ in C minor?

The submediant is even less clear, is it A♭ in C minor? What about A♮? It is an accidental in C minor but a common note nonetheless. Are there terms for the two As?

What is the leading note: B♭ or B♮? B♭ is in the key signature but if a progression is actually leading up to the tonic then B♮ seems more likely even in C minor. Whichever is the leading note, how is the other referred to?

  • The correct terminology is "Technical Names" and seeing that they are all names it is correct English to spell the with an upper case letter. So in other words Dominant not dominant. – Neil Meyer Apr 12 '17 at 11:30
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    I've only ever heard the term "scale-degree names"; who uses "Technical Names"? – Richard Apr 12 '17 at 11:31
  • Thanks. I have not heard the term "Technical Names". I cannot recall whether I am more familiar with Dominant or dominant. Excessive capitalisation is so common these days that I would not read any significance to it. – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 11:37
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    @NeilMeyer - everyone else appears to call them 'scale degrees'. And less than 1/3 of sites referring to them use capitals. So that's quite a minority. I'm staying with the majority. And 'technical names' itself doesn't need capitals. It's used by ABRSM, but that doesn't make it biblical - they only discovered the natural minor a couple of years ago!! Am I getting picky?! – Tim Apr 12 '17 at 11:50
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    I just searched for Technical Names and mediant. I added mediant to the search since I thought that Technical Names alone would get many false hits. I was surprised by the number of responses as I had never heard the term before. i did not attempt any analysis of how common it was. However, the results that I have looked at so far don't answer my minor key questions. – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 12:57
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The leading note/tone is always going to be a semitone under the tonic.In a minor key known as the subtonic. It would appear that the same terms are used for all three minor scale notes, but written such as 'the mediant of the melodic minor. That's fine for the jazz melodic - and also for the harmonic - but I can't find a reference (yet) for what the mediant would be called in classical melodic descending, it being a semitone lower than the 'mediant' ascending. It does seem confusing that two different notes would have the same nomenclature! Good question!

  • Thanks. I saw subtonic for the first time while researching before asking though what I read did not go on to say that it allowed leading note to be reserved for B♮ (still using my C minor example). That makes sense, it would seem very odd to call B♭ the leading note. I can see that "mediant of the melodic minor" solves the ambiguity but it is rather clumsy. Also, what would unqualified mediant refer to? The piece modulated to the mediant? Fairly plausible in a minor key since that would be the relative major. – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 10:23
  • Mediant is unequivocal. However, submediant would actually have to represent two notes - F/F# in Am classical melodic, for instance, so the plot thickens... – Tim Apr 12 '17 at 11:38
  • Yes, the more interesting question is submediant. I seem to have my answer for leading note. – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 11:39
  • The submediant string of a diatonic lyre differ ultimately with tribal variations, so the diatonic scale degree set also applys to other diatonic modes beyond the Ionian and Aeolean. The degrees which have changed from a diatonic position can be referred technically as hyposubmediant and hypersubmediant. – Richard Barber Nov 17 '18 at 12:45
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Note: I misunderstood the question, and responded to mediant keys instead of mediant pitches. But I'll leave this up in case it's helpful.

David Kopp, in his book Chromatic Transformations in Nineteenth-Century Music, offers a naming system.

He separates these mediants into two broad families of "lower" and "upper" (L and U) mediants.

Within these two families, there are then three more specific types: "flat," "relative," and "sharp" (F, R, and S) mediants. AImportant to remember is that the relative mediants share two common tones, while the other mediants share just one.

So in C major, the LFM ("lower flat mediant") is A♭ major, the LRM ("lower relative mediant") is A minor, and the LSM ("lower sharp mediant") is A major. Meanwhile, the UFM is E♭ major, the URM is E minor, and the USM is E major.

In C minor, the LFM is A♭ minor, the LRM is A♭ major, and the LSM is A minor; the UFM is E♭ minor, the URM is E♭ major, and the USM is E minor.

There are more specifics regarding distinctions between chromatic and disjunct mediants, but this is the gist of his system.

I should note that this terminology is not that widely used. While most "academic" music theorists should be familiar with this terminology, I haven't really seen it used outside of academia. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't use it!


And Tim is right on with the distinction between subtonic and leading tone, so I didn't discuss it here.

  • Thanks. My recent research showed me that subtonic is fairly common and consistent; I am a little surprised that I have not encountered it before. I can see the logic in the system you describe but I have not heard any of it before. The next time that I see some of my music literate friends, I will try to bring these terms into the conversation and see how it goes. You say leading tone so I guess that you are in the US. Is there a possibility of a US / UK difference here as in half-note / minim? – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 11:19
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    Ah, sorry; leading tone = leading note! (I do think it's a US/UK difference, yes.) – Richard Apr 12 '17 at 11:25
  • No problem there. I am used to that difference and also to half note / minim but I don't know whether there are differences in the area of degree names. – badjohn Apr 12 '17 at 11:29
  • I'm not aware of any other US/UK distinctions, but some theorists do prefer the term "predominant" instead of "subdominant." They're wrong :-) – Richard Apr 12 '17 at 11:31
  • In your 3rd and 4th paras., you say , e.g.'in Cm, the LFM is Ab minor'. Can a mediant (one note, I thought) have major or minor attatched? Have I missed something? – Tim Apr 12 '17 at 11:43
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Anyone looking for a simple answer might consider this:

The degrees of the scale outline Tonic, Mediant and Dominant as the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of the scale ascending.

The 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees descending give us the Tonic, Submediant and Subdominant. A good reason not to use 'Subtonic', as the 'sub' part of the word doesn't mean 'immediately below' but rather means 'descending rather than ascending' - so if you called something the 'Subtonic' it should either mean a unison Tonic or the Tonic an octave lower, logically speaking. 'Subsupertonic' for the 7th degree if you don't like the British term, maybe?

That only leaves the 2nd (Supertonic because it is above the Tonic) and 7th (Leading Note because it leads back up to the Tonic).

As to building chords on these notes, the major ones are simple because they use the notes of the major scale for every triad.

The minor ones can also be simple. We are creating chords and therefore building harmony. Therefore it is logical to use the scale created for such a purpose, namely, the harmonic minor scale.

So, in C minor, your chord on the: Tonic (C) will be minor; Supertonic (D) will be diminished; Mediant (Eb) will be augmented; Subdominant (F) will be minor; Dominant (G) will be major; Submediant (Ab) will be major; and Leading Note (B) will be diminished.

I acknowledge that academics will want to delve much deeper but something simpler for perhaps A level students needs to be here too. And anyone who posts on this thread deserves a medal after the long hours trying to stop the spell checker editing so many words - 'supersonic' for example!

  • Thanks. I like your interpretation of sub in submediant and subdominant. When I first learned these terms, they seemed puzzling. Only much later, did your interpretation occur to me. I encountered subtonic even more recently, just before my post, and as you say, it breaks the pattern. On the "British term", do you just mean "leading note" rather than "leading tone"? This seems to be a trivial difference. I was puzzled at first by your C minor comments but I expect that you are referring to the chords built on these notes. I was just asking the names of the notes. – badjohn Apr 13 '17 at 14:33
  • I went through three years at a conservatoire and never encountered the terms 'subtonic' or 'leading tone'. Normally that means they are non-British terms but that's only a guess. If you're doing classical harmony you will use the technical names and the harmonic minor scale; if you're doing melody you'll probably mostly refer to the actual notes or the the numerical term such as 'a trill on the 5th'. So I never felt the need either to distinguish the flattened or sharpened 6th & 7th with different technical terms while studying in the 70s. Maybe things have got more complicated since then. – AnnFB Sep 24 at 2:59
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The scale degree names are the same between major and minor...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degree_(music)

...with the exception of the leading tone. The leading tone will always be a half-step below the tonic. So, in minor, the harmonic and melodic minor scales have a leading tone as their seventh scale degree. The natural minor has a subtonic as its seventh degree.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leading-tone

While you did not ask specifically you may be interested to know that the solfege syllables do have variations for major/minor. So the third scale degree in major is called "mi" but in minor it can be called "ma" or "me." You question seemed to be searching for a major/minor distinction in scale degree names. While there isn't a distinction for the degree names, there is on for solfege syllables.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solf%C3%A8ge


EDIT

I thought it would be good to add some additional explanation regarding minor harmony, the raised ^7 scale degree, and the root position chords of the ^3, ^5, and ^7 scale degrees.

The two important points are:

  • the diatonic scale is used for the scale degrees
  • the ^7 degree is raised to create a dominant chord

Let's review these root position chord:

III

  • this is the 'mediant' chord
  • it is not a dominant so the raised ^7 is not used
  • its quality is major
  • functionally this chord is weak, not normally used in minor except when modulating to the mediant (relative major) in which case it really becomes the 'tonic'

V

  • this is the 'dominant' chord
  • to make a proper, functional dominant we must raise ^7
  • in the case of a functional dominant the quality is major
  • in the case that the ^7 is not raise the quality is minor where a common use would not be root position but inverted as in a descending progression i v6 iv6 V

VII

  • this is the 'subtonic' chord
  • it's not a dominant (relative to the tonic i) so the ^7 is not raised
  • its quality is major
  • this chord has a strong tendency to move to the relative major key in which case it is a dominant but of the mediant III rather than i.

vii°

  • this is the 'leading tone' chord
  • it's a dominant so the ^7 is raised
  • its quality is diminished

The main point of the outline above is the mediant in minor is not an augmented chord and the raised ^7 is an alteration used to form dominant chords of the minor tonic.

It could be pointed out that the raised ^7 could be used in a melodic passage over the iv or i chords or perhaps other cases where the chord involved is not a dominant. However, in such cases the ^7 is a non-chord tone decorative in natural rather than a functional scale degree.

  • Thanks. So, using C minor as the example. The mediant is certainly E♭. There are separate terms for B♭ and B♮. The submediant is A♭ but there is no term for A♮ even though it will occur commonly in a C minor piece. – badjohn Apr 13 '17 at 14:56
  • Thanks for the solfege information. As you say, beyond my question but interesting nonetheless. – badjohn Apr 13 '17 at 14:57
  • Regarding A♮. I think you are right, there is no special term. But, in the theory discussions where the context is melodic minor I think people may refer to that degree as a "raised sixth." But, of course that isn't really the term/name I think we would all like to have. :-) – Michael Curtis Apr 13 '17 at 15:16
  • There is a term, A natural in C minor is the hypersubmediant. – Richard Barber Nov 17 '18 at 12:48
  • @RichardBarber, I added comments to your answer re. A natural. – Michael Curtis Nov 19 '18 at 14:36
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1.(a) The mediant of C major is E-natural.

1.(b) The mediant of C minor is E-flat.

  1. Technically speaking, A-natural in C minor is the hypersubmediant degree.

  2. Technically speaking, the only note which can lead to C is B-natural. B-flat is the subtonic degree.

  • Where did you encounter the term "hypersubmediant"? Can you shed any light on music.stackexchange.com/questions/75523/…? – Richard Nov 17 '18 at 19:30
  • Yes, The Greek prefixes hypo- (literally below) and hyper- (literally above) are attached to those technical scale degree names to denote the lowering (hypo) or raising (hyper) of the scale degree by one-half step. For example, [1]: i.stack.imgur.com/zXOUk.jpg books.google.com/… p.iv A Treatise on Harmony with Exercises: Part 1, – Richard Barber Nov 18 '18 at 10:28
  • @RichardBarber, I'm not sure if you are quoting that source (Anger, A Treatise on Harmony with Exercises, appendix iii) correctly. As I read it, from a tonic of C, the A natural is the 'major submediant' and an A sharp is the 'hyper submediant.' So, the B flat is the 'subtonic' and A sharp 'hyper submediant' are the enharmonic naming options. – Michael Curtis Nov 19 '18 at 14:23
  • FWIW, even that author acknowledges those are 'new' terms (published 1906.) I'm not really sure that calling A sharp 'hyper-submediant' is better than something like 'chromatic appoggiatura' or 'chromatic passing tone.' – Michael Curtis Nov 19 '18 at 14:34

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