I am a bit confused as to what the bass note of a chord is. Isn't it the first note of the chord (or any of its inversions)? Or it can be any note that not necessarily belongs to the chord, as long as it's the lowest note played? So a C chord can have D as a bass?

  • 1
    You may also want to know what the root note of a chord is: i.e.: What is the difference between a root note of a chord, and a bass note of a chord. "first note" has no meaning in music theory that I am aware of.
    – amalgamate
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:11
  • @amalgamate Yeah, I meant the lowest pitched note. The root is always the same for a given chord and the one that defines the chord, no matter of the order of the notes, right?
    – alfoks
    Sep 19, 2016 at 17:47
  • Correct. Here are some more words added so I can make that small comment.
    – amalgamate
    Sep 22, 2016 at 20:04

3 Answers 3


The bass note of a chord is simply the lowest pitched note that is part of the harmony. If you are looking at the notes of a chord bottom up then yes it is the "first" note. The bass note of a chord in general is very important in defining how the chord functions so we make note of it in the form of inversions and slash chords to notate exactly what note is in the bass.

In your example, yes you could have a C major chord with a D in the bass and you would see it written as the slash chord C/D. Notice how the D is not a chord tone of a C major chord. When you see this it typically alludes to a chromatic bass line that is taking you somewhere while the overall harmony is getting you there in a slightly different manner. You may also see the chord written as a Cadd9/D which means almost the same thing, but now we are directly considering the bass note as a chord tone.

  • Not sure how important the C with D in the bass is for the OP but I would mention that C/D is a slash chord that can be used to spell out a sus chord in a Jazz setting, where C/E/G would be 7/9/4 of a D sus. And just to be a little picky, this could be a part of a chromatic bass line but this particular chord would more typically be part of a diatonic step-wise bass line. Sep 20, 2016 at 17:20

The bass note is the lowest note being played. It's not an analytical term, merely a description of what's happening.

In harmony theory, the root of a chord is the letter-name that gives it it's name. It may be at the bottom (root position). 3rd at the bottom gives first inversion, 5th at the bottom gives second inversion. We could logically extend this to call a 7th chord with the 7th underneath as "third inversion", a 9th with the 9th underneath as "fourth inversion"... but we generally don't!

When we get into chords like C/D, let go of the theory book a bit! It MIGHT be useful to call this a third inversion of C(add9), but almost certainly isn't. More likely C/D refers to a quite specific voicing where the D HAS to be the bass note and shouldn't be included in the upper structure.


Well if you dont play the bass note of your chord that is the lowest note of any of your chords and let the bass player do the bass for you. Then it actually wont matter.because he can do all the jumbling of bass line he wants that would fit your chords.

  • A bit late comment. This does not answer my question at all. Actually I don't even play an instrument and I'm not in a band. I compose using computer software. I needed to understand if there is difference, if any, between for example, a C in 3rd inversion and a C/G chord.
    – alfoks
    Oct 4, 2017 at 16:00

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