• How to play smoothly using the power of inversions Part 1

    in Playing songs

    First, let’s start with the basics.
    As stated above, an “inversion” is simply another way to play the same chord.
    …So when someone says “invert” that chord, they are basically saying to apply some changes to the chord so that it’s played differently.
    Now the rule behind inverting a chord is this:
    “The number of notes in a chord determines how many inversions exists for that chord”

    In other words, “the number of notes in a chord is equal to how many different ways you can play the chord.”
    So if you are playing a 3-note chord, C major (C+E+G), there would be three total ways to play the chord — and since you’re using one of those ways to play “C E G,” that leaves two more to go!
    So let’s talk about the different types of inversions:
    Root position: This is when the keynote (name of the chord) is the LOWEST NOTE.
    Let’s analyze this inversion really quickly.
    In C major, the keynote is C. Remember, the keynote is simply the name of the chord. So a C major chord in root position always has C as it’s lowest note:
    C E G
    For those who don’t know how to form major chords, I invite you to visit https://www.hearandplay.com/course or check out my free online lessons at https://www.hearandplay.com/lessons.
    Recall that you can form ANY major chord by simply taking the [1st], [3rd], and [5th] tones of any major scale.
    In other words, if you know all twelve major scales, then you know all 12 major chords. In fact, you know all 12 minor chords… dominant chords… major seventh chords, and more (…because all of these chords come from major scales).
    “C E G” is basically the first, third, and fifth tone of the C major scale.
    C major scale = C D E F G A B C
    C is 1
    E is 3
    G is 5
    1+3+5 = major chord
    Now that you understand how the numbers work, I can move on to the other two inversions:
    First inversion: This is when the third is the LOWEST NOTE.
    In the C major scale, what is the third tone?
    Answer: E
    The C major chord is said to be in first inversion when the third tone (or E) is the lowest note:
    E G C
    Notice that we basically took the keynote from the bottom (C E G) and put it on the top ( E G C). So when someone tells you to invert this chord up, that’s would you’d do. Take the C from the bottom (root position) and move it to the top, thus creating the first inversion.
    Second inversion: This is when the fifth is the LOWEST NOTE.
    As you already know, the fifth of C major is G.
    C major in second inversion is: G + C + E
    Notice here, we just took the “E” first inversion ( E + G + C) and moved it to the top (G + C + E). This also leaves the keynote right smack in the middle.
    Root position: C E G (keynote on bottom)
    First inversion: E G C (third on bottom)
    Second inversion: G C E (fifth on bottom)
    Quick Exercise
    1) F major
    F major scale: F G A Bb C D E F
    F major (root position) = _______________

    F major (first inversion) = _______________
    F major (second inversion) = _______________
    2) Bb major
    Bb major scale: Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
    Bb major (root position) = _______________
    Bb major (first inversion) = _______________
    Bb major (second inversion) = _______________
    3) G major
    G major scale: G A B C D E F# G
    G major (root position) = _______________
    G major (first inversion) = _______________
    G major (second inversion) = _______________
    1) F major
    Root: F A C
    First: A C F
    Second: C F A
    2) Bb major
    Root: Bb D F
    First: D F Bb
    Second: F Bb D
    3) G major
    Root: G B D
    First: B D G
    Second: D G B
    Moving on…
    Remember my inversion rule from above?

    “The number of notes in a chord determines how many inversions exists for that chord”

    Since we’ve only been dealing with triads (3-note chords), there have only been three total inversions.
    However, when you start playing with sevenths (4-note chords), ninths (5-note chords), elevenths (6-note chords), and others, the number of inversions increase accordingly.
    # of notes Type of chord
    Three Triad
    Four Seventh
    Five Ninth
    Six Elevenths
    Seven Thirteenths
    If you have the 300pg course, you’ll find more information about this on page 50.
    Here’s a break down of the inversions that exist in larger chords:
    Seventh chords (4-notes):
    Root position, first inversion, second inversion, third inversion [More info]
    Ninth chords (5-notes):
    Root position, first inversion, second inversion, third inversion, fourth inversion [More info]
    Eleventh chords (6-notes):
    Root position, first inversion, second inversion, third inversion, fourth inversion, fifth inversion [More info]
    Thirteenth chords (7-notes):
    Root position, first inversion, second inversion, third inversion, fourth inversion, fifth inversion, sixth inversion [More info]

    Effectively using inversions in chord progressions Part 1

    Chord progressions are simply the movement of one chord to another.
    Progressions generally move in fourth and fifth intervals. When you really do a study of fourth and fifth intervals, you’ll find that they are really inverses of each other. In other words, to go “up” a fourth produces a similar sound as going “down” a fifth (though one is a higher chord than the other).
    Take a look at the C major scale
    C D E F G A B C
    Going up a fourth just means going up four notes in the scale.
    C 1
    D 2
    E 3
    F 4
    So moving from a chord based on “C” up to a chord based on “F” is known as moving up a fourth.
    Let’s look at the scale again (but this time, 2 octaves):
    C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
    Going down a fourth just means going down four notes in the scale (starting from middle C).
    C is 1
    B is 2
    A is 3
    G is 4
    So moving from a chord based on “C” down to a chord based on “G” is known as moving down a fourth.
    You can also reverse the directions of both of these examples:
    Moving up a fifth:
    C is 1
    D is 2
    E is 3
    F is 4
    G is 5
    A chord based on “C” moving up to a chord based on “G” is known as moving up a fifth.
    Moving down a fifth:
    C is 1
    B is 2
    A is 3
    G is 4
    F is 5
    …So “C” down to “F” is a fifth.
    That’s why I said “fourths” and “fifths” are actually closer than you think, depending on whether you’re going up a fourth/fifth interval, or going down.
    Let’s analyze the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones of a scale.
    These are known as PRIMARY CHORDS.
    Out of all the triads of the major scale, they are the only major chords. When looking at the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th tones of a major scale, you’ll find that they are not associated with major chords but with minor chords (2, 3, and 6 tones) and diminished (7 tone) chords.
    So indeed, there is something special about the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones of a scale. In fact, you’ll find that majority of songs move between the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones in one way or another. In fact, I can’t think of many songs where I wouldn’t play the 1st, 4th, or 5th tone. That’s how popular these chord movements are.
    (…Now I’m not saying you’re only going to play 3-note major chords on them — there are certainly more variations, extensions, and alterations that can be made to the 1st, 4th, and 5th tone. You can find them in my 300-pg course).
    Primary chords:
    C major chord: C E G
    F major chord: F A C
    G major chord: G B D
    Using inversions, you can actually connect these chords together very smoothly without having to lift your fingers. Instead, you can “slide” into each chord from the last one.
    Note: If you’re following the melody, it may be necessary to lift your fingers at times. However, if you are playing the organ, playing in a band, or accompanying a singer, you may find it more helpful to use inversions to connect chords together easier.

    Say you wanted to play this progression:
    C major — F major — G major — F major — C major
    How could you connect all these chords together without lifting your fingers?
    Answer: Using the closest inversion from whatever chord you’re currently playing.
    If you were playing C major in root position (C E G) and you wanted to progress up a fourth to F major, the closest inversion wouldn’t be (F A C).
    Look how far you’re moving: [ C E G ] all the way up to [ F A C ]
    Find a closer inversion of F major. Ask yourself this one question: “Are there any COMMON NOTES between the C major and F major chords?
    Answer: YES, the “C”
    Key trick: When moving in fourths and fifths, there will always be a common note between the chords (unless you are leaving out certain notes).
    C major: C E G
    F major: F A C
    In this example, “C” is the common note. The bigger your chords get, the more common notes:
    C major 7: C E G B
    F major 7: F A C E
    Now the common notes are C and E
    Bigger chord:
    C major 9: C E G B D
    F major 9: F A C E G
    Now the common notes are C, E and G.
    So instead of lifting fingers, keep your common notes in place and find out where you have to move the other notes (usually right next door) to create the next chord in the progression.
    C major to F major
    Root positions:
    C major: C E G
    F major: F A C
    Common note: C
    1) Keep C in place after playing the C major chord
    2) Since C is permanent, what do you do with the G? Move it up to A
    3) What do you do with E? Move it up to F.
    4) New chord: C F A (F major, second inversion)
    Another Example:
    Cmaj7 to Fmaj7
    Root positions:
    Cmaj7: C E G B
    Fmaj7: F A C E
    Common notes: C and E
    1) Keep C and E in place after playing the Cmaj7 chord
    2) Since C and E are permanent (common notes), move B down to A.
    3) Move G down to F.
    4) Now that you’ve taken care of the non-common notes (“B down to A” and “G down to F”), you have a new chord: F major 7 / second inversion (C E F A).
    Here’s the key rules (if moving up in fourths, like most songs):

    ==> If you’re playing in root position (major / minor), you can transition smoothest to the second inversion of the next chord.
    Example: C E G to C F A or C E G B to C E F A
    ==> If you’re playing in first inversion, you can transition smoothest to the root position of the next chord.

    Example: E G C to F A C
    ==> If you’re playing in second inversion, you can transition smoothest to the first inversion of the next chord.
    Example: G C E to A C F
    Root to Second
    Second to First
    First to Root
    Root >>> Second >>> First >>> Root
    This even works for bigger chord progressions (for my experienced people):
    Bbmin9 (Ab C Db F over Bb bass)
    Ebmin9 (Gb Bb Db F over Eb bass)
    What did we do? We moved up a fourth.
    Common notes? Db, F
    Did we lift those fingers? No
    Smooth sound? Yes!
    We’ll continue this study of inversions and smooth transitioning in the next issue!
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    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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    { 7 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 MS

    Good post. Wow, am I years behind!!


    2 Ann

    Awesome free lesson. THANKS. I’m a licensed minister and want to play for private worship. I learned cords (ALL in ROOT position) and could never transition from chord to chord without a huge delay. This lesson was VERY helpful. Now, of course, I’ll need to practice. So headed to pick a song and start figuring out the common notes to make easier transition. Blessings!


    3 bradford full time

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    4 kissogram glasgow

    Very great information can be found on this site.


    5 mobile recyclers

    Hello, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the desire”.I am trying to in finding issues to improve my site!I guess its ok to use some of your ideas!!


    6 sally

    My problem now is after learning minor chords, i dont no when to use them is worship and praise


    7 Norma Watkins

    Sally, if you have a hymnal book with “O Holy Night” this hymn will teach you a great lesson on the secondary chords, the minors. I love this song but I hated playing (by ear) because when it came to the line “fall on your knees…….” it was to difficult for me. At that time I was not a sight reader and had no clue what “theory” was. Once I started studying theory on my own, I began to see the chord progressions and when I caught on, all those hymnals that I had trouble with became fun to play because every one of those hymns had those secondary chords – the minors and they progress: You will see the vi – iii – ii in a major key along with the primary I IV V in the section of “O Holy Night”. Now go to every hymnal that has caused you problems and I can guarantee you will not only see but hear the secondary chords that held you back.


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