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Guitar Theory For Dummies Cheat Sheet

How to Make Chord Inversions and Chord Voicings on the Guitar

Before you can use the CAGED system to create different chord inversions on the guitar, you need to familiarize yourself with a few terms and concepts.

  • A chord inversion is a reordering of notes in a chord. A C major chord is C-E-G, root-3rd-5th, with the root, C, placed in the bass (lowest) position. If you play the chord with E in the bass as E-G-C (3rd-5th-root), you make what’s called the first inversion. If you put the 5th in the bass as G-C-E (5th-3rd-root), you make the second inversion.

In inversions, the chord members (the intervals that make up the chord) trade the bottom position.

  • A chord voicing refers to the order and spacing of a chord’s members. Any combination of C-E-G makes a C chord, but C-E-G sounds different than E-G-C or C-G-C-E. Each inversion is a different voicing.

    [Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
    Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

With chords, if a note other than the root is played in the lowest (bass) position, you have to specify it with a slash (/). The letter before the slash is the actual chord, and the letter after the slash is the alternate bass note.

Here are some additional chord voicings for C. Some examples have spacing between their pitches that require you to either mute strings or fingerpick. The way that these chord shapes are voiced (in other words, the order of and spacing between the notes) gives them their individual sounds.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
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