• # Chord Inversions – The Key To Smooth Playing

Chord inversions are simply different ways to rearrange a chord.

Some believe root position (how the chord is normally played with the keynote or title on the bottom) is not an official “inversion.” Others don’t make that distinction.

I’m more with the latter perspective and prefer the easy definition: The number of notes in the chord equals the number of inversions (or ways you can play/rearrange the chord).

Simply put, if the chord has 3 notes, it has 3 inversions or ways to rearrange it. If it has 4 notes, it has 4 inversions. 5 notes, 5 inversions.

## Chord Inversions – Root Position

Take a C major chord. Here it is in root position.

Root position is what you get when the keynote or root of the chord is the lowest note.

Remember my definition: The number of notes in the chord equals the number of ways you can play/rearrange the chord.

3 notes – 3 ways.

We’ve already covered the “default” root position so that leaves 2 inversions.

## Chord Inversions – First Inversion

To get the next inversion, simply take whatever note is on the bottom and move it to the top.

In our example, taking “C” from the bottom and moving it to the top leaves us with “E” on the bottom.

When you do this, the chord is in first inversion.

First inversion is when the third of the chord is on the bottom

If you look at C major, C is the root, E is the third (major third; see chord guide), and G is the fifth.

When the third – or E in this case – is on the bottom, you’re playing it in first inversion.

That means ALL of these examples are first inversions:

*Some of these may obviously take two hands.

But my point is, don’t confuse how you “voice” a chord with its inversion. You can double up on notes, place notes in the next octave, do whatever — as long as all the elements of the chord are there and the third is on the bottom. Third on bottom = first inversion.

## Chord Inversions – Second Inversion

Take the third off the bottom and put it on top and you’re left with the fifth on the bottom. In this case, G.

Again, as long as the fifth is on the bottom, you can voice the chord however you like.

## Using Chord Inversions in Progressions

Take the famous 4-chord progression discussed in yesterday’s post.

In C major:

C major (the 1):

G major (the 5):

A minor (the 6):

F major (the 4):

As we don’t want to alter the actual chord progression (1-5-6-4), what if we only inverted the chords in our right hand?

So we’d start by playing C major:

C major (the 1):

C is in our bass (left hand). Our right hand will start off in root position.

Now the question is, which inversion of the G major chord would allow the smoothest transition?

G major (the 5):

Root position (right hand)

First inversion (right hand)

Second inversion (right hand)

Since G is a common note between both chords and is already being played as the highest note in the C major chord, the goal in this example is to leave it that way.

That means, instead of having to move all 3 fingers on the right hand, one stays the same and we only have to move 2.

First inversion gives us B on the bottom, which consequently puts G on top.

So now, our progression looks like this:

C major (the 1): Root Position

G major (the 5): First Inversion Right hand

What about our third chord in the progression? The A minor.

It doesn’t share any notes with G major but we can still choose the inversion closest to the chords we’re currently playing.

A minor (the 6):

Root position (right hand)

First inversion (right hand)

Second inversion (right hand)

My personal preference would be first inversion.

In the previous two chords, our melody stayed on G. By choosing the first inversion of A minor, we’re raising the melody only a whole step up to “A.”

Choosing root position would have brought the melody up to “E.”

Similar is true for second inversion.

So here’s our progression so far:

C major (the 1): Root Position

G major (the 5): First Inversion Right hand

A minor (the 6): First Inversion Right hand

For our last chord, we have two common notes: The “A” and the “C.”

Only one inversion of the F major chord makes the most sense for our purposes right now. Can you figure out which one?

F major (the 4):

Root position (right hand)

First inversion (right hand)

Second inversion (right hand)

If you see what I see, second inversion wins.

Check out the transition between our A minor and F major chords:

A minor (the 6): First Inversion Right hand

F major (the 4): Second Inversion Right hand

One-note difference on the right hand.

## Chord Inversions – Putting it all together

C major (the 1): Root Position

G major (the 5): First Inversion Right hand

A minor (the 6): First Inversion Right hand

F major (the 4): Second Inversion Right hand

Until next time.

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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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