• Ask Dr. Pokey: “Why Are Chords Inverted?”

    in Piano

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    If you are interested in knowing the answer to the question “why are chords inverted?” this lesson is for you.

    A vast majority of musicians believe that the reason why chords are inverted is because it affords us more than one way to play it.

    While this might sound like the reason or purpose for inverting chords, it isn’t the real reason why chords are inverted.

    The only way to find out why chords are inverted is to read on because I’ll be explaining it step-by-step in this lesson.

    But before I do so, let’s refresh our minds on the concept of inversion.

    Quick Insights On The Inversion Of Chords

    The concept of inversion (on the keyboard) is concerned with the change of the order of the notes of a chord

    “So, Why Are Chords Inverted?”

    The reason why chords are inverted is for smoothness in chord progressions. In the key of C major:

    …where chord 1 is the C major triad:

    …and chord 4 is the F major triad:

    A chord progression from the C major triad to the F major triad will not sound smooth if both chords are played in root position

    C major triad:

    F major triad:

    Let us see how the principle of voice-leading can help us play smoother chord progressions.

    The Voice-Leading Principle In Chord Progressions

    As long as you’re interested in creating smoother chord progressions, you can’t ignore voice-leading principles.

    Attention: Subsequently, we’ll be considering the notes of a chord as voices or voice parts. Consequently, every chord tone is a voice/voice part.

    Although there are so many principles and guidelines to voice-leading, you’ll find this one most relevant:

    When two chord have one or more voices in common,

    1. …the common voices are retained.
    2. …the rest of the voices move to the closest possible option.

    In the case of the progression from the C major triad (the 1-chord):

    …to the F major triad (the 4-chord):

    …we have two things to keep in mind:

    1. The common voices to be retained
    2. The rest of the voices to me moved to the closest possible option.

    So, what are the common voices to be retained in both chords:

    The C major triad:

    The F major triad:

    The common voice in both chords is C:

    C:

    …is the first tone in the C major triad:

    C:

    …is also the fifth tone in the F major triad:

    So, in the movement from the C major triad:

    …to the F major triad:

    …the common voice (which is C):

    …has to be retained (as C):

    …while the rest of the voices (which are E and G):

    …will move to their closest possible option:

    E:

    …will move to F:

    G:

    …will move to A:

    Altogether, “E-G”:

    …moves to “F-A”

    …while C:

    …is retained as C:

    Following the voice-leading principle, the C major chord:

    …will move to the F major chord:

    smoothly.

    “But That’s Not All…”

    The F major chord (we progressed to):

    …is the second inversion of the F major chord:

    So, the voice-leading principle adds smoothness to chord progressions and this is only possible through the use of inverted chords.

    “So, Why Do We Invert Chords?”

    We invert chords to add smoothness to chord progressions.

    Final Words

    A vast majority of musicians still believe that the reason why we invert chords is to have other ways of play it. But the inversion of chords has a deeper application and implication than just providing you with an alternate way to play a given chord.

    We’re just getting started with the voice-leading principle. In a subsequent lesson, we’ll go deeper into exploring it and learning how it works when seventh and extended chords are used.

    But before then, questions, comments, and contributions are welcome and can be posted in the comment section.

    See you in the next lesson!

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carolyn

    Great information. I will be practicing this way. Now I know why chords are inverted, for smoothness. I really thought it were to make it sound different. Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

    Reply

    2 cheryl

    Thanks for the information on why chords are inverted.

    Reply

    3 Joshua

    Thanks sir for this information, am getting to understand the reason why chord inversion

    Reply

    4 Kirk Cavanaugh

    This is awesome. This information is huge. For anybody that writes songs. Thank you for the lesson. Peace.

    Reply

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