Which way is Up?

When we hear the word “up”, we tend to look  towards the sky, as that is generally what it means.

But in music, when used in a term like, “UP a fret”, or “UP a half-step” the direction refers to pitch.
If you play an open G string, you will hear a G note. Now, if you play the first fret on the G string, you will hear a G# (or an Ab – same thing). You have gone “up” a half step! Directionally speaking, you have most likely gone to your right, depending on how you hold your instrument. Go UP another half step (or fret) and you will now be playing an A note.

Sometimes “up” means “to your right”.


So if you continue going UP the neck towards the bridge (the bridge is your strings attach to your instrument… not the tuners… the other end of the strings!) you will be going UP in pitch.

Now, what if I said to go DOWN a half step or a whole step? You would go the opposite direction.

This UP and DOWN applies to chords as well, most successfully with closed “barre” chords, as they don’t have any open strings. If you play a Bb chord, for instance, and move it UP a half step, you will be playing a B chord. Same chord shape, but now a different chord. Keep going up the neck and you will have several chords.

So there you have it! Up means right… or left… or even down…

Just remember that UP often refers to PITCH.


4 Responses to “Which way is Up?”

  1. Edward Bordallo Says:

    And if you change the orientation of the ukulele as if it were standing on the lower bout (going north and south), it truly would be “up” is really going down in direction and “down ” is really going up in direction.

    How do you explain the almost infuriating way music knowledge changes well-worn and well known conventions in knowledge and forces one to think “backwards” or “inside out” when one is trying to learn music. For example reading right to left instead of left to right when it comes to the numbers of the strings or numbering the strings from top to bottom in tablature or other representations instead of the convention that one counts upwards usually, fom the bottom. Or that the tone names only go from C to C, then repeat, truncation the eminently useable 26 letter alphabet.
    Where did this all come from? Some sort of dyslexia? Plain orneriness? Musicians being crochety, old codgers with dementia? And don’t even get me started with non-Western music systems that have even more tones in their scale system.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thanks for the comment. I suppose I could go on and on attempting to answer, but I really don’t know the history of how all that came about. For one thing, western music only uses 12 semi-tones and rather than create new and unique symbols for them, it uses the first letters of the alphabet A-G (not C-C) and the sharps and flats in-between, as that is all they needed.

      But yeah, I get your frustration. I can only say that I think that music – the PLAYING of music – came first, and then people went about to write it down and explain it.

      Why do we write left to right, but in Chinese it is the other way around? I would never say our way is correct, and the other way is wrong… We just have to learn (if we want to) and get on with it.

      Have a great day and again, thanks for the comment.

  2. Laurie Says:

    Thanks Rhan – Great info! I just had a light bulb go on and things are starting to make a little more sense! Wish I could make it to your Monday Night class but I have a conflict.


    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Hi there,
      Thanks for the comment. I am glad light bulbs are burning bright! My Monday night class was for a limited time (4 weeks) and therefore over now, but I will have another, perhaps on another nite so you can make it.

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