Jul 29th, 2007
Chord inversions are one of those things that often seem a lot more complex then they really are. A lot of guitar players push off learning how to play chord inversions on guitar because they think it is too complicated for them. In this lesson I will try and break down what chord inversions are and show you how to play a few of them. And once you understand what chords inversions are you will be able to figure out all sorts of them on your own.
Here it goes:
What is a chord inversion?
Unless you know chord inversions, which for this lesson I am assuming you don’t, the chords you are used to playing are all in “root position”. This means that the tonic of the chord is the lowest not (the bass note) of the chord. So, for example, in an Cmaj7 chord the bass note of the chord is C. But whenever a note other than the root (tonic) is the bass note, then the chord is an inversion. Make sense?
As you know, most chords are played with three or four notes on guitar. That means that besides the tonic, there are at least two to three other notes that can bee in the bass position. (For example a C major chord is C, E, G. Besides C there are two other notes that can be first. Cmaj7 is C, E, G, B. Besides C there are 3 other notes).
How to make chord inversions
There are three common chord inversions and they’re called first inversion, second inversion and third inversion. In first inversion the 3rd of the chord is the bass note. (It’s called first inversion because the 3rd of the chord is the first note after the tonic). In second inversion the 5th of the chord is in the bass. (Called second inversion because the 5th is the second chord tone after the tonic). And third inversion has the 7th as the bass. (Called third inversion because….well, you get the idea). Not so bad too far, is it?
The drop-two voicing
Before we look at how the three chord inversions are, this would be a good time to make sure you know what “drop-two” chord voicings are because we are going to use them to build or chord inversions to make them easy to play on guitar. So take a moment to read my post on drop-two chord voicings and them come back to this post and continue where you left of. If you already know what a drop 2 chord voicing is then just keep reading.
Playing chord inversions on guitar
Ok, back to the three Cmaj7 chord inversions. Ok. So the notes of Cmaj7 chord are C, E, G, B. So here is the standard Cmaj7 chord in root position with a drop-two voicing applied:
Now let's see the first inversion. So let’s take the root note and send it to the back of the line. So the chord spelling for first inversion would now be: E, G, B, C. But that note grouping will be hard to play on guitar, so let’s also give it the drop-two voicing. So the new note order would be E, B, C, G.
Here is a graphical explanation of what we just did:
And that is how you play the first inversion on Cmaj7 on guitar: (This one is a bit of a stretch to play. But once your hands are used to it, it won’t be so hard)
To make the second inversion we will do the same process as the first inversion, only instead of starting with the Cmaj7 note grouping from root position, we will start with the first inversion note grouping BEFORE we added the drop to. So this is how we create the second inversion:
And here is how you play Cmaj7 second inversion on guitar:
For the third inversion we follow the same process, only we start with the note grouping of the second inversion BEFORE we dropped the two:
And here is how you play Cmaj7 third inversion on guitar:
There. That wasn’t too hard, was it? Now you can play and chord inversions you want. Just follow the process:
1. Write out all the notes of the chord in root position
2. Send the first note to the back of the line
3. Then drop the second note to the back of the line
4. Find the notes on the fretboard
5. Repeat the steps, only for step one start with the notes from your first inversion before you dropped the two.
Try figuring out other chord types like min7, dominant (7), 9th chords, and so on. Also, keep in mind for three note chords you will only have two inversions.
Play through the different inversions on your guitar and listen to how the different inversions have different sound qualities even though they are the came notes. This is why inversions are such a powerful tool to freshen up your guitar playing: you can create different moods by substituting inversions for root position chords in your playing.
I hope that was of some help. In later lessons I will talk about other ways to use inversions. Please post your questions to the comments section below.