Any tips for how to hear the root note of a chord, especially when that chord could be inverted.

Context: what I'm trying to do is figure out chord progressions by ear. And my understanding is if I hear the root that is essentially the chord name (modified to either be a major or minor sound).

The way I've been doing it is I just play bass notes with whatever I am listening to, and the bass notes that I play are usually the roots. But I'm wondering if there's any tips for finding those roots, usually I just try to encapsulate the sound of a chord that I'm hearing into a single note, and that usually is the root but I'm not sure if this is a good way.

  • 1
    This is something that you get better at with practice, and trying out options for bass notes is not a bad way to get some ideas. Another thing you can do is look for typical root movements. If you can recognize one chord, say a G7, this can help you identify the chords around it. You can also practice ear training with chords by learning to identify first major, minor, augmented, and diminished (or at least major and minor) triads, then learning to identify them in their inversions.
    – user39614
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 1:06

1 Answer 1


The bass part of a piece will more often than not contain root notes, so it's a good start point. By understanding and knowing the sounds of intervals fourth and fifth (both perfect), you'll start to be able to recognise whether a chord change has gone I>V, V>I, I>IV or IV>I. Obviously V>IV and IV>V are far easier to establish, just using the sound.

I've discussed I, IV and V primarily, as most sequences will contain those, and it's a good place to start. So, what I advocate isn't just being able to recognise what chord is what, regardless of inversion, but to recognise the transition from one to another.

Recognising major from minor is a skill in itself, and just needs practice - but watch our for Imaj7ths, which sound uncannily like iii.

  • these are some good tips thanks, but what if there's no bass (referring to instrument) in the song. for example, what if the song is just a piano. when you say bass do you mean the lowest note of the chord they're playing? it could be an inverted chord, so the bass wouldn't be a root note.
    – user34288
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:35
  • This is why I took the tack of going via chords themselves. Once you've established the first/root chord, you won't need a bass or lowest note to follow. Get used to the sound transition between chords.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 15:51

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