Chord Inversion Lesson



Chord inversion is the process of rearranging the notes in a chord and turning the chord upside down. So instead of playing 1 3 5 of the chord, you might play 3 5 1, or you might play 5 1 3.

Inversion can be applied to any chord – just start rearranging the notes in that chord, by changing which note you have in the bass. Any chord can be inverted, and each inversion has its own unique sound.

Here are the 3 possible inversions of a C major chord:
C major ‘root position’ = C E G.
C major 1st inversion   =   E G C.
C major 2nd inversion   =   G C E.

The same labeling applies to any other type of chord, including minor, augmented and diminished chords.

Inversion can also be applied to larger 4 note & 5 note chords. The more notes a chord has, the more possible inversions there are:

C minor 7 root position   =   C Eb G Bb.
C minor 7 1st inversion   =   Eb G Bb C.
C minor 7 2nd inversion   =   G Bb C Eb.
C minor 7 3rd inversion   =   Bb C Eb G.


So what’s the benefit of using chord inversion? Apart from being able to create subtly different sounds from the same chord, the main benefit of using chord inversion is to create smooth voice-leading. ‘Voice-leading’ means how each voice in the chord moves when the chord changes. Imagine a group of singers singing the chord changes, with each singer assigned to sing just one note from each chord. The goal is for each singer to move by the smallest distance possible when the chord changes. Otherwise they have to make big leaps which sounds jagged and unnatural (and ammeter).

Smooth voice-leading is achieved when each voice moves by the smallest distance possible. If you play each chord in a progression in root position (1 3 5), you’d probably have jagged voice-leading, which is disruptive to the listener (and difficult to play). So chord inversion can be used to create smooth voice-leading in any chord progression. Anytime you find your hand jumping a great distance (a 3rd or more) think about which inversion you could play the new chord in, so as to reduce the distance your hand has to move. Try playing it in 1st inversion, and also in 2nd inversion – which one allows you to move your hand less? Go with that one.

And usually you only have to invert one chord for every 2 or 3 chords in the progression to create smooth voice-leading.