• An Easier Way To Master First Inversion Triads

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, you’ll find out an easier way to master first inversion triads.

    There are three known ways to play any given triad: its root position, first inversion and second inversion. A vast majority of beginners and intermediate players find it difficult to distinguish first inversion triads from second inversion triads.

    Using the information available in this lesson, you’ll learn a trick that can help you distinguish first inversion triads from root position and second inversion triads.

    But before we go any further, let’s refresh our minds on the inversion of triads.

    A Short Note On The Inversion Of Triads

    A triad is defined as a collection of three related notes (agreeable or not), which may be played or heard together. A common example of a triad is the C major triad:

    …which consists of its root (C):

    …third (E):

    …and fifth (G):

    A triad is said to be played in root position when its notes are in the “root-third-fifth” fashion:

    How To Invert A Triad

    Transposing the lowest tone in the C major triad:

    …(which is C):

    …to a higher octave (which is also C):

    …produces the first inversion of the C major triad:

    …where the notes are played in the “third-fifth-root” fashion.

    Transposing the highest tone in the C major triad:

    …(which is G):

    …to a lower octave (which is also G):

    …produces the second inversion of the C major triad:

    …where the notes are played in the “fifth-root-third” fashion:

    The C major triad can be played in root position:

    …first inversion:

    …or second inversion:

    Due to the fact that a triad can be played in three known ways — the root position, first inversion, and second inversion — it is important for you to know the difference between first inversion triads and other ways a triad can be played: root position and second inversion.

    How To Determine First Inversion Triads

    A first inversion triad is played in the “third-fifth-root” fashion. For example, the C major triad in its first inversion:

    …its third is E:

    …its fifth is G:

    …and its root is C:

    From the order of the notes in the first inversion chords, the highest-sounding note is the root. Therefore, when a chord is played in its first inversion, it’s appropriate to name the chord after the highest-sounding note in the chord.

    The first inversion triad below:

    …has G as its highest-sounding note. Therefore, it’s appropriate to name the chord after G (which is the highest-sounding note) in the chord.

    Having covered the basic information on first inversion triads, let’s go ahead and learn how they can be distinguished from root position and second inversion chords using a knowledge of their figuration.

    The Figuration Of First Inversion Chords

    The figuration of a first inversion chord can be derived from the interval between the lowest-sounding pitch and two upper pitches. In the case of the C major triad:

    …its figuration can be derived from the interval between the lowest-sounding pitch (which is E):

    …and other pitches: G and C:

    E to C:

    …is a sixth, while E to G:

    …is a third. Therefore, the first inversion of the C major triad:

    …can be described as a six-three chord because the distance between the lowest-sounding pitch (E), and the upper notes are a sixth and a third.

    How To Identify First Inversion Triads

    First inversion triads are basically six-three chords. Therefore, the determination of the figuration of a chord can help you identify a first inversion triad.

    The triad below:

    …is NOT a first inversion triad because it’s NOT a six-three chord. From F to D:

    …is a sixth, while from F to Bb is a fourth. So, the triad:

    …is a six-four chord and is definitely NOT a first inversion triad.

    The triad below:

    …is a first inversion triad because it is a six-three chord. From C to Ab:

    …is a sixth, while from C to Eb is a third. So, the triad:

    …is a six-three chord and is definitely a first inversion triad.

    Final Words

    All first inversion triads are six-three chords. Therefore, by determining the figuration of a triad, you can know whether it’s a first inversion triad or not.

    All the best!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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