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Inversion Perversions

Darrin Koltow (383) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2

Inversion Perversions

By Darrin Koltow

This article represents the viewpoint of the author. As with anything read on the Web, it would be wise to verify all information with a reliable source, such as a music teacher or music textbook.

What are inversions and how do they help us? They sound like some kind of meteorological term. "Raining guitar picks. News at 11." How do you spell meteorological? If I play inversions right, can I make it rain?

No, fellow guitar student. Audiences may rain applause upon you if you learn inversions and other concepts well enough, though. What we can do here is learn some basic ideas about inversions, and make practicing them fun.

You all know what a Chord Freak I am. So it's natural that I approach an understanding of inversions through chords. Before we get to some tab that will help with that, what the heck are inversions?

It's like that game that little league players play with the bat, to decide which team gets to be at bat first: someone from team A grabs a bat at the bottom. Someone from team B grabs the bat so the bottom of their hand is sitting on top of the team A guy's hand. Next, the team A guy goes again, his other hand grabbing the bat so that his hand sits on top of the Team B guy's hand. And so on, until there's no more bat left. As the kids do this, they constantly have to take their bottom hand off the bat and move it to the top.

Now, what the heck does this have to do with music? Picture a major triad as the fists, coming off the bottom of the bat, and going to the top. You might think of the tablature staff or standard music notation staff as the bat. You might think I'm a lunatic for describing inversions in this way, but I'm on a roll, here. Bear with me. Let's get to some illustrations, to show each inversion of a major triad.

Root position
First inversion
Second inversion

So, big deal right? What good is this? It *is* a big deal. You played 3 different A chords, and you want to know all of 'em. Why? Let's say you're playing a tune, and you happen to be playing V-I in A at the moment. You're playing a line based on E7, and the last note you hit is a G# on string 1. You want to hit an A chord next, and you want that top melody note on the A chord to flow smoothly from the G#. So, which inversion of A do you use? Play those inversions again, and then give your answer.

The root inversion's top note is an E, which is 4 half-steps away from the G#. The first inversion, however, has A as its top note, which is only 1 half-step away from G#. And you can forget that second inversion. He's way out in la-la land. So, play the first inversion. It's the smoothest. (Sounds like a commercial for one of those cold slushy drinks.)

Okay, now that you have a glimpse into the importance of knowing your inversions for a chord, how do you practice 'em in a way that's fun, darnit? Check out the attached tab for a little ditty that offers one way.