Music theory can seem like an intimidating subject with its complex terminology and abstract concepts. One such term that often leaves people scratching their heads is “upper neighbor.” In this article, we’ll break down exactly what an upper neighbor is and how it’s used in music.

Defining Upper Neighbor

An upper neighbor is a type of non-chord tone that’s used to add interest and tension to a melody. Specifically, it refers to a note that’s one scale degree above the main note of the melody, which is then followed by the main note again. For example, if the melody is on a C note, the upper neighbor would be a D note played quickly before returning to the C.

How It Works

The purpose of using an upper neighbor is to create tension and release in the melody. By adding a note that’s not part of the chord being played at that moment, it creates some dissonance that resolves when the melody returns to the main note. This creates a sense of forward motion in the music and keeps things interesting for listeners.

Examples in Music

Upper neighbors are used across many different styles of music. Here are some examples:


Understanding what an upper neighbor is and how it functions in music can help you appreciate melodies on a deeper level. By adding tension and release through non-chord tones, composers can create more interesting and dynamic music. So the next time you’re listening to a song, see if you can pick out any upper neighbors!