Chord inversion basics for piano and keyboard
Let's learn to form new chords that are NOT in the root position.
Before starting, let's define a few terms.
- triad: three notes that form a chord
- root (tonic): the note in a chord that is the same as the chord being named, i.e. in a C chord, the root or tonic note is a C.
- bottom: the lower pitched note in a chord
- third: the third note in a scale
- fifth: the fifth note in a scale
- C major triad: a chord formed by the notes C, E, G (root, third, fifth).
Always playing chords on the piano or keyboard with the root (tonic) at the bottom means you’ll be jumping a lot around the keyboard. This can be difficult, particularly on an accordion, ('cause it's hard to see the keyboard, eh?) and can result in choppy-sounding playing.
However, playing inverted chords allows you to play without moving around excessively, as well as adding some nice tonality to your playing. It’s also a great way to increase your knowledge of the keyboard and improve your musicianship.
Example in C Major
Let's look at a C major triad chord and its inversion options.
The Three Triad Inversions
You can play any three-note chord from three positions. Here is what it looks like in the case of C Major:
- The root position: The traditional note grouping (root, third, and fifth)
- The first inversion: The root note moved to the top of the chord so that it's now arranged third, fifth, root
- The second inversion: The third moved up on top of the root (fifth, root, third)
And here is a standard notation view:
Example chord sequence in C Major
Let's take a look at a simple four chord sequence in C using root position chords then compare that to the same sequence using chord inversions.
In the example below, I'm playing a C, Am, F, G (1, 6m, 4, 5 in C Major) sequence in root position. Notice how far I have to move between the C and the A minor.
C major root
A minor root
F major root
G major root
C major root (this one didn't change)
A minor first inversion
F major second inversion
G major second inversion
Chord inversions are fun and useful. They often sound better too.