I'm trying to understand what has the most impact on the perceived pitch of a chord. Specifically, I'm learning to play ukelele, and the standard C major chord is voiced as G4, C4, E4, and C5 (string order from top to bottom); where as standard F major is voice as A4, C4, F4, A4. The C chord ends up sounding higher than the F chord, I guess because they have the same base note (C4) but the highest note in the C chord (C5) is higher than that in the F code (A4).

I'm probably grossly over simplifying this, but is there a general rule for predicting which of two chords will sound higher (given particular voicings for each)? For instance, does the chord with the higher base note always sound higher, and then some rule for breaking ties?

5 Answers 5


I would definitely say that the most important notes in the chord in this regard are the first and last note, but the bass note more likely will have the most power within the context of a song. I would guess if the bass note is moving up (like, lets say bass is playing A, B, C, D, the movement of the progression would have a higher sound... as in, it would sound like the progression is increasing regardless of the highest notes in each individual chord.

Every chord has soooo many possibilities of voicings especially depending on your instrument, so I would say this isn't too important of a topic in regards to learning music, progressions, etc. Any chord could be voiced to sound higher or lower than any other chord.

  • When you say "first and last note", do you mean the root and fifth (for a triad), or do you mean the lowest and highest? Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 18:34
  • I mean whichever is in the bass and whichever note is on top. For a triad, for example, there are three different inversions for the chord: 1-3-5, 3-5-1, and 5-1-3. So depending on octaves, etc, any note of the chord is able to be the bass note and/or on top. Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 18:40

Going to oppose Deannakov's thoughts, and say that to sound high, or higher, a chord will have to have higher notes in it. The defining highest note will be the decider.

Having said that, it's somewhat like do you put the sugar in tea before or after the water. The difference may be debated for ever, and it's rather subjective. At the stage you're at with playing and maybe music in general, with respect, it's one of the 'icing on the top' bits, rather than something far more fundamental that will enhance both your playing and understanding of music.

A 3 note chord has, well, 3 notes. Played on a 4 note instrument, there are many combinations (voices, in the trade !)to be used to play the same chord. Most will fit into most situations, without too much jarring, and the changes from one to a different one can be varied, and, indeed, are, from song to song.By trying out all the different combinations, you will be more in control of how you want a particular song to go, so, get out there and just play - try the different voicings, without worrying too much about the theory behind it all. That will make itself apparent, the more you play.

  • I think individually this is true but as I said, within the context of a song the bass has a little more weight. Hmm, maybe I'm just a bass player... :P Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 22:08

Purely based on my own experience I believe:

1- The strongest notes in a chord are those central/high end of our singing range, perhaps roughly the octave above middle C. If the chord has all notes in same octave this point is irrelevant but in a lot of music chords get inverted or thrown around all over the place and it becomes noticeable.

2- In a chord with a grouping of notes and a distant one, e.g. moving a single note more than an octave away, the weight of the pitch stays with the group, so small changes in the grouped notes are much more significant than, say, moving the stray one a further octave (regardless of the position of the group in point 1).

I don't have ukelele to hand but I agree that the upper C pushes C past A in your example, removing the upper C brings it back below the A chord you've described as you'd expect.


Sigh, i'll try to offer a simple perspective. Forget the idea some chords sound higher. A 'C' is still a C no matter where you play it. You place it where you like the sound for your personal expression. The difference enters if you are learning another person's song, so you may copy it exactly to fit the composer's expression or what sound they created. With your own stuff, play what you think sounds best for your ability.

Disclaimer: I hate to bring up theory on a forum. It is never-ending, and Generally not necessary for most. Some of the greatest playing in Rock/blues history are played by famous guys who had no musical training. Play what you like.

C scale - C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. The 'space between notes' are called 'Intervals.' This scale above is the model of all scales. C - is 1 D is 2 E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6, B is 7, and back to C The

The intervals, or distance in steps are: Whole whole whole half, whole whole whole half.

A basic chord is three notes in melodic harmony. The One, the Third, the Fifth. so, C is one, D is two, E is three, F is four, G is five, A is six, B is seven, back to C. Take the one - three-five, C E G - flat the third is c minor. That formula works for all music. Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole Half. That is steps for all key all music. The distance between notes. So example, C is one, D is two, E (is third) E flat is C Minor. To argue theory is a waste. Play what you like.


For a basic chord, the root and the 3rd (1st and 2nd note in the chord, e.g. C and E in a C chord) define the chord. This is why guitar "power chords" use only those 2 notes. When playing with others since the bass section will usually play the root so a lead instrument (e.g lead guitar should hit the 3rd)

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    While you’re correct that the root and third give a chord most of its character, a power chord is a root and a fifth, not a root and a third. Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 1:32

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