Piano Chord Inversions

"Piano Chord Inversions"

What ARE chord inversions? The term "chord inversion" refers to changing the order of the notes in a chord. There are as many positions of a chord as there are notes in the chord. That is, a triad has 3 positions, a dominant 7 chord has 4 positions, etc.

When the name of the chord is the lowest note, it is called "root position". Root position triads are probably the easiest to learn and should be mastered in all 12 keys before you branch out into chord inversions.

For example: a C Major chord:

A First Inversion chord is formed when the 3rd of the chord is the lowest note. For example, a First Inversion C Major chord is spelled E G C. A First Inversion C Dominant 7 chord is spelled E G Bb C.

First Inversion: E G C

Chords in the Second Inversion have as their lowest note the 5th of the chord. A C Major triad in Second Inversion would be spelled G C E. A second Inversion Dominant 7 chord is spelled G Bb C E.

Second Inversion: G C E

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How to use Piano Chord Inversions:


There are several reasons to invert chords. One is to make the transition between chords smoother. A chord progression played with root position chords ONLY tends to be jumpy and difficult to play.

Another reason to use piano chord inversions is to make a smoother sounding bass line. The use if First inversion chords also allows the bass line (where the left hand plays single note roots) and the chords to move in opposite directions, which often is more desirable than parallel motion.

When accompanying a vocalist, it is often useful to play the melody note as the highest note in the chord in order to add support to the vocalist's melody.

Another important use for chord inversions is to devise "chord melodies" in the right hand. In playing a chord melody, you use an inversion of the chord so that the melody note is the highest note in the chord. This produces a melody that is already harmonized in the right hand, leaving the left hand free to develop an interesting bass line. This is a common practice among jazz players.

Learning To Use Piano Chord Inversions

First, you must become totally familiar with the inversions of each chord. These can be practiced by playing the root position, first inversion and second inversions in order and then going back down in reverse order. Here are the fingerings:

Right Hand--135, 125, 135 Left Hand--531, 531, 521

After you have become familiar with the inversions, you can practice using them in this manner:

Play the first chord in your progression. Then determine which notes you need to play the second chord. If any of these notes are in the first chord, keep them and substitute the rest of the notes to make the second chord.

For Example: Moving from C Major to E Minor:

Keep the E and the G and change the C to B. This gives you a second-inversion E minor chord. Continue this process throughout the chord progression. The result will be that you will be able to play the entire progression with a minimum of hand position changes. Please be patient--it takes time to learn to be comfortable using piano-chord-inversions.

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