When you play a chord on the piano with the root on the bottom, or the lowest note, you’re playing the chord in root position. But you don’t always have to put the root on the bottom of the chord. You’re free to rearrange the notes of a chord any way you like. This rearrangement, or repositioning, of the notes in a chord is called a chord inversion.
How many inversions are possible for a chord? It depends on the number of notes the chord contains. In addition to the root position, you can make two inversions of a triad. If you have a four-note chord, you can make three inversions.
Putting inversions to work
Why would you want to rearrange a perfectly good chord? Play these left-hand chords and notice how much your left hand moves around the keyboard.
Constantly jumping around to all the chords can become tiring, and it doesn’t sound very smooth, either. The solution is to use inversions. Play these chords, and notice the improvement. You play the same chords as in the previous exercise, but you don’t move your left hand up and down the keyboard.
Making a song easier to play is just one reason you may choose to use chord inversions. They also help you with the following:
Drawing attention to the top note: Most of the time, you hear the top note of a chord above the rest of the notes. You may want to bring out the melody by playing chords with melody notes on top.
Chord boredom: Root position chords get boring if used too frequently, and inversions add some variety to a song.
Smoother chord progressions: Each song has its own progression of chords. Inversions help you find a combination of chord positions that sound good to your ears.
Flipping the notes fantastic
Any triad has three possible chord positions: root position, first inversion, and second inversion. Root position is just like it sounds: The root goes on the bottom.
For the first inversion, you move the root from the bottom to the top, one octave higher than its original position. The chord’s third moves to the bottom.
The second inversion puts the third on top (or one octave higher than its original position). The fifth of the chord is on the bottom, and the root is the middle note of the chord.
Use the exact same process to invert four-note chords. The only difference is that another inversion is possible when you have four notes: the third inversion. It’s easy enough to guess what you do: Keep inverting the chord until its seventh, or fourth note, is on the bottom, and the three notes that were previously below are up above.
Experiment with these inversions on various types of chords so that when you’re playing from a fake book, you know which inversions of which chords work best for you.