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Knowing and understanding chords and their inversions will help you to unlock the keyboard and allow you to play songs in many keys as well as provide variety to your sound. Let’s take a look at how inversions work!

The C chord is made of three notes: C-E-G. When they’re set up this order this is called root position. This is the most common and simple way to voice chords (especially when you’re a beginner). If you notate your root position chord on the staff, it resembles a snowman! The bottom note of a root position chord is the root note because it is the note in the chord that decides the chord name.

Now, you don’t have to play the chord notes in this order. This is where things get fun and exciting. You can play those three notes in any order and it would still be considered a C chord. When you reorder the notes of a chord so they are no longer in root position, you get what is called an inversion.

If you juggle that root note up to the top of the chord you end up with E-G-C. This is STILL a C chord in its first inversion.

Juggle that bottom note up again and you end up with G-C-E. Once again, still a C chord but now it is in its second inversion.

Juggle once more and you end up back at root position: C-E-G.

Learning how to play these chords with their inversions will allow you to move between chords in a progression smoothly. You’ll be able to move between chords without bouncing your hands all over the keyboard because you will be able to use inversions to reorder notes close by to create your chords. It’s a lot like a puzzle. If I want to move from C to G, I could play root position chords and move my hand OR I could play C in root position (C-E-G) and G in its first inversion. This means my hand doesn’t have to move at all because my 5th finger is already on G. I can move my thumb down to B and my 2nd finger to D. Now I am playing a G chord.

The other benefit of this is that by playing your chords with inversions you will highlight different tones within the chord. The highest note played is the one that stands out the most. Inversions are DEFINITELY worth the work. The best way to get comfortable with them is to practice them over and over while saying the note names or inversion out loud as you go.

Happy practicing!


Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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