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Music Theory:
Chord Inversions - Part One



In order to establish a solid foundation for knowing the processes of chord inversions there are five important concepts that must be not only understood, but also memorized. They include;

1). VOICING: The arrangement of the notes of a chord in vertical order above the bass note is referred to as a chords voicing. For example, a typical triad chord such as F Major contains the notes of: F, A, C. On the guitar this chord is often played in 1st position from the 4th string third fret. In this popular voicing the notes lay on the fingerboard as; F,A,C,F. The voicing would be notated as; 1, 3, 5, 1. This is only one example, however chords can often have many voicing's across the neck.

2). CHORD INVERSION: Voicing a chord tone other than the root in the bass creates an inversion. For example, a C Major triad has the notes of; C, E, G. If we wanted to increase the effect of this chord moving into the sub-dominant family chord of F Major, we can place the C chord's 3rd degree (the E note) into the bass. This inversion will increase the resolve when the F Major chord arrives (due to the 1/2 step from the 3rd of the C chord which is E to the root note of the F Major chord which is the F).

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The position of a chord inversion has to do with what chord tone has been placed into the bass. The 3rd, 5th or 7th chord tones can occur as a new bass note in chord inversion processes. Learn the position from the list given below.

a). ROOT POSITION: The voicing of a chord with the ROOT as the lowest tone (in the bass).

b). FIRST INVERSION: A chord with the THIRD in the bass.

c). SECOND INVERSION: A chord with the FIFTH in the bass.

4). HOW TO FIND ROOT POSITION OF AN INVERTED CHORD: To find the root of an inverted chord (this is easier to do when the chord is written on the music staff) you must rearrange the notes until they are stacked in 3rd intervals. The lowest note will be the root. Third intervals occur as follows, Note: the chord displayed with the degrees below is CMa7:

C Major 7th
1 3 5 7

5). SLASH CHORDS: In modern musical notation, inverted chords are represented by a symbol, known as slash chord notation. The slash chord chord style is displayed as two letters separated by a slash. The letter on the left is the chord, the letter on the right is the new bass note. For example; a CMa7 chord with the 5th in the bass (second inversion) would look like this: C/G.

CONCLUSION: This notation is extremely common to see on charts. It is vital that musicians be fluent with this notation along with a good vocabulary of these voicing's on their guitar fingerboard. Watch Part Two for ideas about applying this concept to voice leading.