Triad Over Root Chords

Triad Over Root Chords - Tonic Major

arrangement & orchestration chords composition


Today we’ll kick off a video series in which we’ll explore a concept called Triad over root chords and how we can apply it to synthwave.


Triad-Over-Root Chords is a very useful device to give color and texture to your chord progressions.

In my opinion, it’s a great way to quickly dreamify any chord progression without getting too technical about it.

Triad Over Root Chords will help you turn a vanilla chord progression in C major that sounds like this



Into this:


Quite the difference, right?

The definition of Triad Over Root Chords is simple. You take a chord triad, for example C major, and place it over a root note in the bass. Depending on which bass note you pick, in many cases the result will be a more colorful version of the standard chords from a major or minor key.

If we place a C major triad over all the possible bass notes in the key of C major, these are the chords we’ll get.

  • C over C is an unaltered C major chord
  • C over D is a D11 or D9sus chord
  • C over E is a C major chord with the 3rd in the bass
  • C over F is a Fmajor9(no3) chord
  • C over G is a C major chord with the 5th in the bass
  • C over A is an Aminor7 chord
  • C over B is a Cmajor7 chord with the 7th in the bass

Let’s now listen to how all these chords sound:



One thing to note is that by using the tonic triad over all possible bass notes from the major key, we don’t get any G or Em chord, only variations of C, D minor, F and A minor. If we wanted a G or Em chord using Triad Over Root, then we’d have to try another diatonic triad besides C major.

If we want to reapply using the tonic triad over the root in any key, it is helpful to normalize the chords by using Roman Numeral Analysis. Like this:

For example if we’re in the key of G major, and we play G major on top of the IV chord bass note, we’ll get a “IV major 9 with no 3rd” which is Cmajor 9 (no3).

Here’s an example progression in C major. It consists of the chords C Am F G.



Let’s play a C major triad on top of the bass notes C, A, F and G, and listen to how different the progression sounds.



Immediately it has more color and is more interesting. The reason for this is that now we are playing Am7 instead of the vanilla Am, Fma9(no3) instead of F major and a C major inversion with G in the root instead of a G major chord.

Here’s another example, this time in G major. We’ll play the tonic triad G major on top of a progression consisting of G major, C major, Eminor and back to G major. We’ll use an arpeggiated pattern instead of block chords this time:




Experiment with playing other triads from the key, besides the tonic triad, on top of all the bass notes from the same key. Make note of the combinations you like best and try them out in your future synthwave tracks.

Make sure to visit this page to download the companion PDF to this video series. It contains explanations, reference tables and additional examples so you can put these concepts to great use.

In the next video, we’ll use a tonic triad over root but this time over a minor progression.

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