What are inversions?
And how do you create inverted chords?
In music, inversion means changing the order of the notes of a chord. These changes generate different chord shapes on piano, guitar, ukulele and other harmonic instruments, while preserving the quality of the chord.
Why would you use inversions?
You’re probably wondering why we want to change the order of the notes in a chord. This way one chord connects to another, smoothly, making our musical life easier.
Sometimes, when the chords of a song are far apart, your hands and fingers make big jumps between positions on the fretboard or keyboard. It’s a very common difficulty that all musicians face at a certain stage in their development. Inversions will be a great, and necessary, help.
Moreover, some songs call for long one-chord repetitions. And repeating the same chord over and over might become boring. In that case, playing inversions can really make your accompaniment more interesting for listeners, and you can surprise your band members!
Inversion of the C major chord
Let’s look at some inversions. For example, an inverted C major chord.
The initial, basic order (or: root position) of the notes is: C, E, G. Now we create the first inversion by moving the C to the end: E, G, C. In the second inversion we move the E to the end: G, C, E.
Moving the G to the end will return the initial order of the notes. Therefore, as you can see in the picture below, the C major triad has two inversions.
These are the inversions of the C major chord (triad) on piano:
Here are examples of inversions of the C major chord on guitar:
Most guitar chords consist of more than three strings. So inversions are included in the “full chord.” That means that the (inverted) chord is surrounded by other notes of the chord. Here are three examples of C major chords on guitar: (from left to right) the C major triad, its first inversion and its second inversion.
Here is the example of C major chord and two inversions on guitar:
Here are examples of inversions of the C major chord on ukulele:
Naming inverted chords
There are special notation standards for chord inversions.
If you’ve played a song by reading chord symbols (E, G#, Fm, etc.), you’ve already probably encountered these odd-looking chord symbols, like C/E or Dm/F. These are called slash chords. The first letter refers to the chord, the right indicates the bass note.
Remember the initial order of notes for the C major chord: C, E, G. If you look at the C/E chord in the image below, you’ll see that the E note is now the bass note. Therefore, we can recognize this as the first inversion of the C chord: E, G, C.
Now imagine having to play a C/G chord. What’s that? It’s the second inversion of the C major chord. In other words, this is the C major chord with a G as the bass note.
Inversions with Roman numerals and Arabic numerals
There is another way to indicate inversions. In music theory, inversions can be indicated by Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc) together with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3 etc). The Roman numerals refer to the harmonic analysis of a chord, the degree of a chord in relation to the tonal center. Arabic numerals indicate inversions.
Let’s stick to the example of the C major chord and assume that the song we’re playing is in the C major key. Based on the notes of the C major scale we can build up the following triads: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim, C. Because the C major is at the first degree of this scale, it’s indicated by the Roman numeral I. Lower-case numerals can be used for minor chords as well as upper-case, so the Dm is indicated by the Roman numeral ii or II; the Em is iii or III; the F is IV, and so on.
Inversion notation depends on the type of chord. For instance, C triad contains three notes. For inverted triads we use the Arabic numerals 6 and 4.
The first inversion of the C chord (E, G, C) will be notated as:
The 6 denotes that the E (bass note) is a sixth above the C (root) in this inversion.
The second inversion of the C major chord (G, C, E) will be notated as:
The 4 means that the interval from G up to C is a fourth. The 6, again, indicates that the interval from G up to E is a sixth.
For seventh chords Arabic numerals will be different, since seventh chords have 4 notes.
More about inversions: