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Identifying Inversions The Easy Way

Lisa Witt - Feb 4, 2018

I spent a great many years feeling confused by inversions. Because my piano beginnings were based on classical training, I had to play them a great deal. I am thankful for this now because I see the greater picture and realize that all those tedious inversion practices lead me toward being able to play music I loved!  

 

Chord inversions are an essential skill for anyone wanting to play piano.  Luckily, they're not as hard as they look

 

When I began to view inversions as shapes I began to really understand how they worked and how to identify them. Here is a Lisa style breakdown of Inversions. Enjoy!

 

The first thing to know is your chord structure.  For example a C chord is made up of a C-E-G. When you play these three notes in root position they are spaced out in 3rds. In written notation, this makes them look like a snowman. The root note is the note on the bottom and it tells us what chord we are playing.

 

Now, when we invert this root position chord, we take the bottom note and put it on top! What this does is create a new shape. We now have an interval of a 3rd on the bottom and an interval of a 4th on top. The root note has moved and can be identified as the note with the greatest space or interval below it. In the case of E-G-C we are still playing a C chord however it is now called a 1st inversion C chord because the root note is in the top (number one!) spot.

 

Piano chords all have very distinctive shapes.  Once you learn to identify them, your whole world will open up

 

If we flip the notes once more, the order looks like this: G-C-E. The spacing is now a 4th on the bottom and a 3rd on top. The  note with the greatest space below it is in the 2nd spot and therefore we are in 2nd inversion.

 

And that is how inversions work. Next time you practice your chords and inversions, take note of how the shape changes depending on what inversion you are in. This will help you to quickly and easily identify the chords you are playing and how to move between chords quickly and efficiently using both root position and inverted chords in your progressions.

 

Have fun!,

 

Lisa

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Hi, I'm Lisa Witt

Lisa has taught in a variety of settings from beginners just getting started to recording artists preparing their songs for the road. While her background is classical, she loves helping students play the music they love by ear and is excited to be a part of YOUR journey.