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Chord and Scale Inversions

Updated on January 22, 2012

Chords

When you first learn to play chords you will most likely learn the basic chords which are comprised of the 1, 3, and 5 intervals of either the major or minor scale. These chords are fine and they sound great. Although, sometimes you might want to use one of these chords but give it a twist and make it sound a little different. This it what inversions are for.

Normally the root note is the lowest note or bass note in the chord, however, it doesn't have to be. To invert a chord all you need to do is either use the 3rd or the 5th as the lowest note of the chord. For example, if you are playing a chord in the key of A major, the notes will be A, C#, and E. To invert this you could play it like this: C#, E, A. Or you could do this: E, A, C#. Each one of these is still an A chord; they just sound a little different. Here are some examples in guitar tablature, first I'll show the standard root position chord and then some inversions:

    E
E---0-------0--------------------------0---4-----------
B---0-------0---5----------------------0---5---9-------
G---1-------1---4---9--------or--------1---4---9-------
D---2---2-------6---9------------------2-------9---6---
A---2---2-----------11-----------------2-----------7---
E---0---4------------------------------------------7---

These same chord shapes can be moved to play in any key and can also be altered to minor chords by flattening the 3rd.

When a chord is inverted with a 3rd as the bass note it is called a 1st inversion. The intervals of a 1st inversion chord then change so that the 3rd (now the root note) becomes the 1 followed by the 3rd and 6th.

When a chord is inverted so that the 5th interval becomes the bass note, it is known as a 2nd inversion. The intervals of the other notes then become the 4th and the 6th in relation to the bass note.

There are not 3rd inversions with chords that only have three notes; unless you use a chord that has more notes than that such as a 7th chord or maybe a 4th or 6th chord.

Scales

Scales can also be inverted for use in melodies. When the intervals in a scale become inverted the new interval will always equal 9 when added to the original. For example if the 2nd interval of a scale is inverted it will become a 7th in relation to the root note; a 3rd will become a 5th, a 4th to a 5th, a 5th to a 4th, and so on. Keep in mind that the actual notes will never change just the intervals between them. Here's an example in tablature:

5 int. in-between            4 int. in-between 
E-------------              --------------------- 
B---------5---              --------------------- 
G------------Can Change to: --------------------- 
D---7---------              ------------7--------
A-------------              ---7----------------- 
E-------------              ---------------------


Learning interval inversions can really help you understand music. They will also help you to be more creative and give you more options and possibilities when playing and writing music.

Good Luck!

Peace.

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