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Guitar Chord Inversions


In this guitar theory lesson you are going to work with a type of chords called triads. Triads are guitar chords that contain 3 different notes, the 1, 3 and 5 (major chords) or the 1, b3 and 5 (minor chords).

 

 

 

 

 

Triads are used in a number of ways in a jazz guitar setting, such as being played from the 3rd of any chord to produce a rootless voicing, or from the 9th to produce the upper extensions of that chord.

So, while they are simple in nature, and often associated with Rock and Pop music, triads can be applied to non-root notes in order to get a cool, jazzy sound in your playing, which you can hear in the chord work of great players such as Ed Bickert and Kurt Rosenwinkel, who both love to use triads in their comping and chord soloing.

If you want to know even more about chord inversions, I suggest you take a look in this excellent music theory book (it's the jazz theory bible): The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine

What Are Chord Inversions

All triads can be arranged in 3 positions: root position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion.

Here's an example: let's start with a simple C major chord: C E G

  • The bass note (lowest note in a chord voicing) of this chord is C, which is the 1 or the root. This basic chord is called a root position chord.      C E G
  • Now, what happens if we put the E in the bass and keep the rest of the notes?    E G C
  • That's what we call an inversion, the 1st inversion to be exact.
  • And what happens if we put the G in the bass?    G C E
  • Then we get the 2nd inversion.
Inversions are chords that don't have the root note in the bass, instead they have the 3 or the 5 as the lowest note of the chord shape.

Chord inversions are written with a slash, where the note on the left side of the / is the chord name, and the note on the note on the right side tells you which note is in the bass of that chord.

  • C/E for the first inversion (C chord with E in the bass)
  • C/G for the second inversion. (C chord with G in the bass)

 

The same slash system works for minor chords as well.

  • Cm/Eb for the first inversion (Cm chord with Eb in the bass)
  • Cm/G for the second inversion. (Cm chord with G in the bass)
 

Let's have a look at the tab and notation for the major chord and its inversions, in this example on the 5-4-2 string set.

 

Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords  

 

Now let’s take a look at the minor versions of these chord shapes, which you build by simply lowering the 3rd by one fret in the major inversions you just learned.

  Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords

Guitar Chord Inversion Diagrams

To help you get started in taking these shapes to the fretboard, here are 24 chord inversions for major and minor shapes on the fretboard, all written out in C or Cm.

To begin, here are closed shapes for major inversions. Closed guitar chords are those where the root position, and all inversions, fit within the space of one octave.

    Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords    

We’ll now move on to the minor closed position inversions on three different string sets to check out in the practice room.

    Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords    

You can now move on to exploring major chord inversions with spread voicings, which are shapes that expand beyond an octave but keep the same 1-3-5 construction.

    Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords    

Lastly, here are those same spread shapes but written for minor chord inversions.

    Jazz guitar chord inversions for major chords    

As you can see, having a strong understanding of chord inversions will allow you to play any major or minor triad, in any area of the fretboard, and on any string set, which will open up your knowledge of the fretboard and of chord construction at the same time.

Chord inversions also play an important role in harmonizing melodies (fingerstyle jazz guitar arrangements), as the root position of a chord is not always in the immediate area of the melody note, which is where chord inversions come to the rescue.

 

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