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In music theory, a scale degree is the name given to a particular note of a scale to specify its position relative to the tonic (the main note of the scale). The tonic is considered to be the first degree of the scale, from which each octave is assumed to begin.
Any musical scale may be thought to have degrees. However, the notion of scale degree is most commonly applied to scales in which a tonic is specified by definition, such as the 7-tone diatonic scales (e.g. the C-major scale C–D–E–F–G–A–B, in which C is the tonic). As for the 12-tone chromatic scale, the selection of a first degree is possible in theory, but arbitrary and not meaningful, because typically all the notes of a chromatic scale have the same importance.
The expression scale step is sometimes used as a synonym of scale degree, but it may also refer, perhaps more properly and less ambiguously, to the distance, or interval, between two successive scale degrees (see Steps and skips). Indeed, the terms whole step and half step are commonly used as interval names. The number of scale degrees and the distance between them together define a scale.
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