Mailbag Monday: What Are Chord Inversions?

Question: Is there more than one way to play a chord?

Answer: Yes, and thanks George for your email. In fact I wrote an article on chord inversions and for those who are interested in chording inversions with your left hand, you may want to read the approach, here.

Chord Inversions

What are inversions in music?
There are inverted chords, inverted melodies and inverted intervals. A chords inversion describes the relationship of its bass to the other tones in the chord. For instance, a C major triad contains the tones C, E and G; its inversion is determined by which of these tones is used as the bottom note in the chord.
The term inversion is often used to categorically refer to the different possibilities, although it may also be restricted to only those chords where the bass note is not also the root of the chord.

The Root Position and Two Inversions of the C triad:

We have been studying three toned chords. You know a C chord, F chord and a G chord. Now the number of tones = the number of ways the chord can be played. Since a triad or a basic chord is three -toned, it can be played three different ways: the root, the first inversion and the second inversion.

When a chord is inverted, the order of the notes is rearranged so that either the 3rd and 5th or just the 5th is below the inverted root.

If the ROOT (the note that is represented by the chord) of a C Major Chord is the lowest tone of the chord, it is said to be in the root or fundamental position.

For an example, if you are playing a C major chord with C as the lowest note, it is being played in Root or Fundamental position.

If another tone of the chord is the lowest tone, the chord is inverted.

The First Inversion would have the third of the chord as the lowest note.

The Second Inversion would have the Fifth of the chord as the lowest note.

The Third Inversion would have the Seventh of the chord as the lowest note.

C Major Chord (Root) = C E G

Since C is the lowest note, it is said to be in its root position.

C Major (1st Inversion) = E G C

Since E (the third of C major) is the lowest note, it is said to be in the First Inversion.

Since G (the fifth of C major) is the lowest note, it is said to be in the

Second inversion.

When a chord is played in its root position, the keynote is always on the bottom. When a chord is played in its first inversion, the keynote is always on the top. When a chord is played in its second inversion, the keynote is always in the middle.

So, what are chord inversions?

We have been dealing with chords in root position. Root position simply means that the root is the lowest note in the chord-the remaining note are stacked on top. But, you can also change the order of the notes, thereby inverting a chord.

How can you invert a chord?

You can invert a chord simply by transposing (moving) the lowest note up an octave, while leaving the others untouched. You can also invert downwards by transposing the highest note down an octave.

Chords can theoretically have as many inversions as they have notes. I say "theoretically" because larger ones tend to be fussy about their inversions: some inversions definitely sound better than others. Triads and seventh chords can, for most practical purposes, be freely inverted, depending on context.

Why invert?

There are many reasons. Progressions sound better with root position chords mixed with inverted chords. So various notes of one chord lead smoothly to notes in the next chord, with others not moving at all. This is called voice-leading.

Another reason for inversion, especially important for string instruments, is to make the chord easier (or in many cases, possible) to reach. Many chords-especially ones with four or more notes-are virtually unplayable in root position on instruments such as guitar and mandolin.

Enjoy playing many inversions in three different positions that will give you more options to your piano playing!

Good Teaching Video on YouTube

Inversion Printable

If you're looking for some visual aides to print out, visit Susan Paradis for Inverting Triads PosterInverting Triads in the Bass and an inversion worksheet,

Inversion Ear Training

For easy ear training on Major and Minor Chord Inversions, visit

  • Supercharge Your Hand Eye Coordination

  • Results Tested Piano Course For Serious Piano Player

  • Sign Up For Free Trials Now! 

All The Best,

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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