Each degree of the scale plays an important role in a musical composition. While there are some you already know from basic music theory, the others are worth understanding too—especially the supertonic. The supertonic has a recent and versatile sound that’s on-trend right now in pop.
In this article, I’ll clarify what it is, why it works, and use it in your own tracks.
Let’s get started.
What is supertonic?
It’s part of a set of correct names for the scale degrees that associate them with their harmonic function.
In ascending order, they are tonic (1), supertonic (2), mediant (3), subdominant (4), dominant (5), submediant (6), and leading tone (7).
These technical terms for the scale degrees seem difficult to understand, however, they will help you put notes in context based on their harmonic function.
For instance, a dominant seventh chord must always include the scale’s leading tone with the dominant as the root.
Why focus on the supertonic?
When you give the scale degrees a name, you’ll be able to identify situations where their function plays a role in the melody or harmonic progression.
The supertonic is a superb example because of how commonly it’s utilized in modern pop songs.
It has a unique quality as a melodic resting place that’ll you’ll recognize when you see how it works.
It’s also the same scale degree because the 9th chord extension is often heard in 9th chords from jazz and R&B.
Beyond that, it’s the foundation note of the ii chord in major, which is found in a few of the most common chord progressions, including the ii-V-I in jazz.
Given all that, it’s worth investigating how the supertonic can sound as you write songs or create tracks.
Where can you use the supertonic?
With the fundamentals coated, listed here are some methods you should utilize the supertonic in your music.
1. As a chord extension
As I mentioned before, the 9th is one of the most common chord extensions discovered on major and minor seventh chords.
Shifted up an octave, the 9th adds a smooth and complicated sound that doesn’t change the chord’s overall quality.
Chords with 9th extensions are common in jazz, gospel, and R&B, so it’s essential to explore them for your harmonic vocabulary.
2. As a melodic center
The supertonic shows up most frequently in modern music as a powerful note in a melodic line.
There’s a trend in pop these days that features simple, singable melodies that don’t stray too far from one or two notes that work over each chord in the progression.
The supertonic is an obvious selection to highlight in lines like this since it doesn’t feel too strongly tied to a single chord.
Here’s a video explaining exactly how this impact works:
3. As a chord root
The supertonic is important in chord progressions that include the ii chord.
This is especially evident in the basic ii-V-I Often voiced in root position, the supertonic contributes to the strong feeling of root motion heard in basic jazz workouts like “Rhythm Changes.”
Hot tip: The ii7 in minor takes on a special quality because of the makeup of the minor scale. In a minor key, it consists of the b5 note from scale degree 6. The resulting chord is a m7b5 which will be heard in minor ii-V-i progressions like the basic standard “Autumn Leaves.”
4. As a suspension
You might consider suspensions as only motion from scale degrees 4-3. However, in early music, 2-1 (or 9-8) was considered a valid suspension, as was 2-3.
If the track’s harmony rests on the tonic with the supertonic tied over, think about these two choices for a unique kind of suspension.
The supertonic might seem like an easy concept. However, when you dig deeper you’ll find it deserves more attention.
From catchy modern melodies to classic jazz, there are tons of applications for this essential scale degree.
If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have an excellent start for working with the supertonic.