Is there a word or way to know if an interval is going from a low note to a high note? "Minor second" doesn't tell me if it's going from a low note to a high note for example.

  • Possible duplicate of Does music have a relative interval notation? – Richard Aug 9 '18 at 20:30
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    (I thought I'd answered this question before...) – Richard Aug 9 '18 at 20:31
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    @Richard not a duplicate. Here I'm asking what's the word for direction, I wasn't looking for notation. The main thing I was looking for were the words "ascending" and "descending" which I wasn't aware of. The example of "ascending major second" essentially answered my question. – user34288 Aug 9 '18 at 20:45
  • Fair enough; I just thought I'd share it since the answers were so similar. – Richard Aug 10 '18 at 11:09
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    Typically in colloquial speech, if you just say " minor X" it's implied that it's rising from the named note. – Carl Witthoft Aug 10 '18 at 11:13

Or maybe there's a way to designate direction with intervals?

It's very simple; we say something like "an ascending major second," or "a minor third below."

In analysis of post-tonal music, we have the notion of "directed" or "ordered" intervals, where we can say something moves +7 semitones followed by -9 semitones. This is in contrast to "unordered" intervals that do not specify direction.

The directed intervals of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" would thus be

-2 -2 +2 +2 0 0

whereas the unordered intervals, which are very similar to your example, would be

2 2 2 2 0 0

  • Confusing. If we're post-tonal, speaking of +5 and -7 intervals, we wouldn't be using names like 'Major 2nd'. Also, 'ascending' is only applicable to serial intervals. It's the wrong word to describe an interval in a chord. Better to stick with up/down. – Laurence Payne Aug 10 '18 at 13:50
  • @LaurencePayne Ascending is applicable to any interval. I can't tell you how may times I've heard playing a scale as ascending and descending which correlates to the interval direction. – Dom Aug 10 '18 at 14:55
  • Indeed. Read my comment again. A scale IS serial, a series of notes. As distinct from a chord. A chord of C isn't 'C, plus the E ascending... ' It's 'C, plus the 3rd above...' – Laurence Payne Aug 10 '18 at 15:42
  • @LaurencePayne it's the same concept with chords. You play arpeggios acceding and descending so referring to any intervals that way should be natural. – Dom Aug 10 '18 at 16:22
  • But for chords wwhich AREN'T arpeggiated... Notes played together, not serially. Lots of times chords are like that! – Laurence Payne Aug 11 '18 at 15:48

Yes. You just use the words up or down; e.g. major third up, minor third down. In writing sometimes an arrow is used.


You can speak of 'a minor 3rd up' or 'a minor 3rd down'. Or 'above' and 'below'. Or, if you prefer long words 'ascending' and 'descending' (though those should be reserved for serial intervals not simultaneous ones. The melody C, E is an ascending major 3rd. The chord C, E is a major 3rd above E.)

But if we're using interval names, they are always worked out from the bottom note up. Major 3rd up from C is E, because it's three letter names - C, D, E - and E fits into the C major scale.

We teach interval naming by 'is it in the scale? Then it's Major (perfect). Is it one smaller? Then it's minor (diminished). (Not a full explanation of course.)

However, confusing though it may be, C down to A is a minor 3rd. Yes, A fits into the C major scale. But when naming the interval C (down to) A, the reference point is the A major scale.

  • We teach interval naming by 'is it in the scale? Then it's Major (perfect). Is it one smaller? Then it's minor (diminished). (Not a full explanation of course.) Because it's a whole lot simpler than memorising a load of semitone counts. And we NEED to know our scales as a very basic part of understanding harmony. – Laurence Payne Aug 10 '18 at 15:36
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    We teach what intervals make up a scale, but they aren't defined by the scale. It's the logic of this answer that confuses people and why people thing major and minor intervals come from the major and minor scale. Again C down to A as an interval has nothing to do with the concept of the A major scale. You can use it as a crutch to figure it out, but this causes confusion. – Dom Aug 10 '18 at 16:21

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