Root (chord)

In music theory, the concept of root is the idea that a chord can be represented and named by one of its notes. It is linked to harmonic thinking—the idea that vertical aggregates of notes can form a single unit, a chord. It is in this sense that one speaks of a "C chord" or a "chord on C"—a chord built from C and of which the note (or pitch) C is the root. When a chord is referred to in Classical music or popular music without a reference to what type of chord it is (either major or minor, in most cases), it is assumed a major triad, which for C contains the notes C, E and G. The root need not be the bass note, the lowest note of the chord: the concept of root is linked to that of the inversion of chords, which is derived from the notion of invertible counterpoint. In this concept, chords can be inverted while still retaining their root.

Root, in red, of a C major chord (Play ). Note that the root is doubled at the octave.
Root notes (blue) and bass notes (red, both=purple) from an 18th century Chorale Play 

In tertian harmonic theory, wherein chords can be considered stacks of third intervals (e.g. in common practice tonality), the root of a chord is the note on which the subsequent thirds are stacked. For instance, the root of a triad such as C Major is C, independently of the vertical order in which the three notes (C, E and G) are presented. A triad can be in three possible positions, a "root position" with the root in the bass (i.e., with the root as the lowest note, thus C, E, G or C, G, E, from lowest to highest notes), a first inversion, e.g. E, C, G or E, G, C (i.e., with the note which is a third interval above the root, E, as the lowest note) and a second inversion, e.g. G, C, E or G, E, C, in which the note that is a fifth interval above the root (G ) is the lowest note.

Regardless of whether a chord is in root position or in an inversion, the root remains the same in all three cases. Four-note seventh chords have four possible positions. That is, the chord can be played with the root as the bass note, the note a third above the root as the bass note (first inversion), the note a fifth above the root as the bass note (second inversion), or the note a seventh above the root as the bass note (third inversion). Five-note ninth chords know five positions, etc., but the root position always is that of the stack of thirds, and the root is the lowest note of this stack (see also Factor (chord)).

Root position, first inversion, and second inversion C major chords Play root position C major chord , Play first inversion C major chord , or Play second inversion C major chord . Chord roots (all the same) in red.
Root position, first inversion, and second inversion chords over C bass Play root position C major chord , Play first inversion A minor chord , or Play second inversion F major chord . Chord roots in red.