Practical Music Theory Tips #2 – Inversions

Ryan Egan —  December 18, 2007 — 6 Comments

Yesterday we looked at very basic ways to build the basic triads in any key.  Now, playing those basic triads all the time could make yourself bored and your music extremely boring.  Let’s add some color by learning how to invert the triads.

So, looking back to yesterday we had built the basic C or I (one) chord as C, skip a note to E, skip a note to G.  So, C-E-G. We now want to invert that chord to add some interest.  So, now, instead of making C the bottom note, make E the bottom note.  Now the chord is built, from the bottom up, as E-G-C.   It uses the same three notes, only in a different order.

You’ll notice that the chord sounds incredibly different.  Why is this?  Before, when the chord was built by only skipping one note in between, the notes were built tightly together.  By inverting the chord, the G and C are spaced farther apart, creating a more open sounding chord.

Now invert the chord one more time so it is built as G-C-E.  This chord also sounds slightly different, even though it is built with the same three notes.

Experiment with other keys, remembering to always follow the key signature.  Also, for piano players especially, experiment with playing the root note (C) in the left hand and then playing each inversion with the right hand.  Then play the next note in the chord with the left hand and play each inversion with the right hand.  See how different each inversion sounds!  When you see chords written on music like C/E, this means that the bass note is an E, calling you to play that first inversion of the C chord (E-G-C).  So, in a band setting, the bass player would play the E, and the keys and guitar players would play any type of C inversion on top of that.

Tomorrow we’ll look at weird chord suffixes that you might see like “sus” or “min7” or “dim.”

Read Practical Music Theory Tips #3 – Weird Chord Suffixes

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.