Chord names can include information about notes to be left out, for instance no5, no3 or even nr (for no root).

- Bob Broadley on "Are the names for these chords valid?", May 29 2015

How can a root be left out of a chord? Wouldn't that make it a different chord? For example, a 7th chord without a root is just a triad with its root as the 7th's third.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site. Good question! It seems counterintuitive, but the root can actually be implied by the surrounding harmony, or sometimes filled in by another voice. Are you asking about a particular genre or just in general?
    – Josiah
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 21:01
  • @Josiah Mostly about classical music, but I'm interested in how it works in other genres too.
    – bjb568
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 21:10
  • Sometimes not making sense is a good way to make art. Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 22:00
  • Related answers that might help: music.stackexchange.com/a/7381/28 and music.stackexchange.com/a/5832/28
    – user28
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 16:27
  • Look at this thread, where a rootless dominant 7th shape chord is labelled with a bizarrely complicated name! We don't need to learn the useage of a diminished triad on the sharpened 4th of the key! Just to realise that, particularly in 3-part texture, notes will be omitted. music.stackexchange.com/questions/54174/…
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


You are right that a chord without a root can usually be interpreted as a different chord, and without any context, nobody can tell which chord is meant. So it is mainly the musical context that identifies the chord. Take as an example a part of a simple blues progression in C:

| G7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |

If in this progression you replaced the C7 chord by an Em7(b5) chord, nobody would hear a half-diminished chord with root E, but what people would hear is a C9 chord, even though the root is missing.

Also note that on certain instruments (e.g., on the guitar) it is very common to leave out the root of more complex chords in order to be able to add more tensions to the chord (usually there are only 6 strings and you have only five fingers if you also use your thumb). As mentioned above, the musical context will usually make the chord identifiable, even without the root. In some cases, another instrument (often the bass) would add the root to an incomplete chord played in a higher register.

  • 2
    That's exactly it. I always found implied harmonies fascinating. There's a passage in The Desert Music that uses a pandiatonic harmony (all the notes in the scale) as a 13 chord with no omissions, but it still functions as a dominant chord because of the context. On the other side, a pair of notes can imply a full harmony.
    – Josiah
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 21:20

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