• What’s The Difference Between A Root Note And A Bass Note?

    in Piano,Theory

    The Difference Between A Root Note And A Bass Note?

    Today, we’ll be looking at the relationship between the terms bass note and root note.

    In more situations than one, you’ll see both terms used interchangeably. For example, in the C major triad:

    …C is the bass note and the root note as well.

    There are other situations where the C major triad can be played like this:

    …in such a way that [even though C is the root note] E would be the bass note.

    If all of this doesn’t make much sense yet, don’t worry at all because with everything we’ll cover in today’s post, you’ll understand the difference between situations where both terms can be used interchangeably and situations where they can’t.

    Definition of the Root Note and Bass Note

    Right before we get into the differences between a bass note and a root note, let’s get started with the definition of both terms.

    The Bass Note

    The notes of a chord are often times considered as voice parts – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

    In the case of the C major triad:

    C:

    …is the first voice (aka – “soprano“.)

    G:

    …is the second voice (aka – “alto“.)

    E:

    …is the third voice (aka – “tenor“.)

    C:

    …is the fourth voice (aka – “bass“) of the chord.

    The word bass literally means low in Italian.

    Considering that the word bass takes it root in the Italian word basso which means low and is also related to the word base, you can tell a layman that a bass note is a base note.

    Think about buildings (irrespective of what sort), that will always have a base – which is pretty much the lowest part (aka -“foundation”) of the building.

    The bass note is the bottom support (or base) of the chord, upon which other voice parts rest on.

    No matter how a chord is played, its bass note is the “base note” or the lowest note.

    The Root Note

    Every chord, no matter how complex or simple, has a note that is is derived from. That note is called its root note.

    A chord is usually named after its root note. For example, the triad below:

    …is derived from C. Therefore its root note is C. This should explain why this chord is called a C major triad.

    No doubt, the chord above is a major chord, but why is it that even though it consists of C, E, and G, it is called the C major triad.

    “Why isn’t it called an E major triad or even a G major triad?”

    The triad above is called the C major triad because it is derived or formed from the C note.

    Having understood that, we can say that the root note of a chord is the note that the chord is formed from.

    When you’re given a chord, you can tell it’s root note from its name. Here’s what I mean…

    The root note of the C major seventh chord:

    …is C.

    The root note of the Gb augmented triad:

    …is Gb.

    The root note of the C# diminished seventh chord:

    …is C#.

    The root note of the A minor seventh chord:

    …is A.

    Now that we’ve understood what the terms are, let’s dedicate the next segment of this lesson to highlighting characteristic differences between the root note and the bass note.

    Root Note Vs Bass Note

    The root note is not always the bass note and the bass note is not always the root note.

    Let’s consider the root and bass notes in two situations.

    Situation #1 – When A Chord Is Played In Root Position

    The C major triad:

    …consisting of C, E, G, and C notes, when played in root position, will always have the root note (C):

    …as the bass note. The same thing is obtainable for the A major triad…

    The A major triad in root position:

    …has A as its origin (root note) and lowest (bass) note as well.

    All root position chords have their root note as the lowest (aka – “bass”) note.

    Attention: It is only in root position chords that a root note and a bass note are one and the same.

    Situation #2 – When A Chord Is Inverted

    The C major triad can be rearranged (or inverted) in such a way that a different note other than the root note (C) is assigned to the bass (lowest note).

    As opposed to the “root position chord situation” where we have the root note on the bass, there are situations where the C major chord is inverted in such a way that the lowest note (bass note) in each case can either be E:

    …or G:

    In such situations, the root note hasn’t change (it’s still C), but the bass note has. Let me throw more light…

    When the C major triad is played in first inversion:

    Even though the root note is C, the bass note (lowest note) is E.

    When the C major triad is played like this:

    Even though the root note is C, the bass note is G.

    Considering that the C major triad can be played using any of the tones it’s made up of as a bass note – C, E, or G, we can say that the choice of bass note is not limited to the root note (which is C.)

    Attention: When the notes of a chord are rearranged (or inverted), the bass note will differ from the root note.

    Final Words

    The terms root note and bass note are often used interchangeably. However, from their definition, it’s clear that the terms bass note and root note don’t mean the same thing.

    While the term bass note refers to the lowest note in a chord, the term root note refers to the note from which the chord is derived or formed.

    When a chord is played in root position, the root note is also the bass note. Check it out…

    Example #1 – Eb major in Root Position

    The root note is Eb. The bass note is also Eb.

    Example #2 – G major in Root Position

    The root note is G. The bass note is also G.

    Example #3 – B minor in Root Position

    The root note is B. The bass note is also B.

    However, as you learned, this is not the case in all situations. We’re bound to have chords played in first, second, third inversion, etc, that have different bass notes.

    Here are examples of such situations…

    Example #1 – D minor in First Inversion

    The root note is D while the bass note is F.

    Example #2 – Bb major in First Inversion


    The root note is Bb while the bass note is D.

    Example #3 – C major in Second Inversion

    The root note is C while the bass note is G.

    A chord can have as many as three options for a bass note and sometimes four if its a seventh chord. However, when it comes to the root note, a chord can only have one root note.

    I hope you find this helpful.

    Chord of the Day Quiz

    Post your answer in the comment box below.

    What are the root and bass notes of the chord above?

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 22 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Sheila

    Root: G#. Bass: B & E.

    Reply

    2 Larry D

    G is the Bass note while C is the root note

    Reply

    3 Michael Harris

    E is root & G# is bass

    Reply

    4 Peter LaFosse

    I agree with Michael

    Reply

    5 Crystal

    E is the root and G# is the bass

    Reply

    6 Joe

    F flat is the root, A flat is the base.

    Reply

    7 jay tony

    Lovly and wonderful lessons from briggs, tnks to pokey for bringing me in. I’m beginning to more friendly with my piano and its great knowing all these. God bless briggs and pokey

    Reply

    8 zino

    noted

    Reply

    9 jay tony

    Root note is E, while bass note is G#

    Reply

    10 Peter

    Root is B and bass is G#

    Reply

    11 Larry Brownfield

    I agree with Michael

    Reply

    12 jean watson

    G sharp is the bass B and E is the root note

    Reply

    13 Ruth

    Root note: E
    Bass note: G#

    Reply

    14 Joseph

    E is the root note and G# is d bass note

    Reply

    15 zino

    G# BASS NOTE , E ROOT NOTE

    Reply

    16 Favour

    Have With No Doubt Enjoyed This One,

    Reply

    17 Mario Lopez

    root note E and bass note G#

    Reply

    18 kaycee

    G# is the Bass note while E is the Root note

    Reply

    19 Vikk

    Root note – E
    Bass note – G#
    Emajor this in first inversion.

    Thanks sir.

    Reply

    20 king solomon

    hi, root is G sharp and bass is G sharp

    Reply

    21 Geoffrey

    The root note G# remains constant while the bass changes from G#-B-E and then back to G# Which is the bass note only if the chord is to be played in root position.Thanks for the post.i now understand how it works.ignorance is a disease you’re curing through this platform

    Reply

    22 Tucky

    Root note – E
    Bass note – G#
    Emajor – first inversion.
    E/G#

    Reply

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