Degrees of the Scale

The degrees of the scale are numbers given to each note of the scale in order.
The numbers are based on the ascending scale:

scale degrees

In a harmonic minor scale, the 7th degree of the scale is always raised by a semitone (half step). In a melodic minor scale, the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale are raised by a semitone in the ascending scale, but no degrees of the scale are changed in the descending scale.

Tonic Triads

The first degree of the scale is also known as the tonic.

A tonic triad is a chord built up from the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of the scale.
For example, here is the tonic triad in F minor:

tonic triad F minor

It’s built on the tonic, F, with the 3rd degree of the scale, Ab, and the 5th, C.

Identifying Tonic Triads 

You might be asked to identify a tonic triad. What key is this tonic triad?

what key is this tonic triad?

First, work out the lowest note. The lowest note here is G.

Next, look at the middle note – does it occur in the major or minor form of the scale? The middle note here is Bb. Bb occurs in G minor, but not in G major. Therefore, this chord is the tonic triad in G minor.

If you are not sure whether it’s major or minor, you can count the semitones (half steps) from the lowest note to the middle note. If there are 3 semitones, it’s minor, if there are 4, it’s major. For example, G-Bb is 3 semitones (count G#-A-Bb), and G-B is 4 semitones (count G#-A-Bb-B).

Adding a Clef and Key Signature/Accidentals to Tonic Triads

You might be asked to work out the clef and a key signature or accidentals to a tonic triad.

Which clef and key signature do we need to add to this tonic triad?

Add key and clef to a tonic triad

To make the lowest note an A, we need to add the treble clef. (If we put a bass clef, the lowest note would be a C.)

The key signature of Ab major has 4 flats: Bb, Eb, Ab and Db:

added clef and key signature

Which Octave? 

It doesn’t matter which octave a tonic triad is in. Here are two tonic triads in C major, in different octaves:

tonic triads in different octaves

Tonic Triads Exercises

Hover your mouse over the questions (tap on mobiles) to reveal the answers.

Which degree of the scale do these melody extracts a) begin and b) end on?




Exercise 3 – Adding Clefs and Key Signatures to Triads

Add the correct clef and key signature to each of these tonic triads.

triads-key-sigs 0 0triads-key-sigs 0 1triads-key-sigs 0 2triads-key-sigs 0 3triads-key-sigs 0 4


Exercise 4 – Adding a Clef and Accidentals to Triads

Add the correct clef and any necessary sharp or flat signs to each of these tonic triads. (Do notuse key signatures).

triads-accidentals 0 0triads-accidentals 0 1triads-accidentals 0 2triads-accidentals 0 3triads-accidentals 0 4


Exercise 5 – Writing Triads with Accidentals

Write the tonic triad of each of the following keys. Do not use key signatures, but remember to add any necessary sharp or flat signs.

write-triads-accidentals 0 0write-triads-accidentals 0 1write-triads-accidentals 0 2write-triads-accidentals 0 3write-triads-accidentals 0 4