Learning Guitar Chord Inversions: Major and Minor Triad

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Guitar chord inversions allow you to create different voicings for a given chord. These voicings can add a little flavor and variety to the typical chord sound. They also can be a bit easier to play and add some versatility to your playing. In this lesson we’ll take a look at what chord inversions are and how to identify them on the guitar fretboard.

What are Guitar Chord Inversions?

Chord inversion is a relatively advanced concept, it’s actually quite simple.

Guitar chord inversions are what the name implies…chords that are inverted. What this means is that the arrangement of stacked notes is changed so the root note is no longer in the bass (lowest note) position. Before we get into the details of inversions, let’s first do a little review of chord construction.

Chords are built on triads, or three notes stacked in thirds. These triads are formed of the root, 3rd, and 5th intervals.

The B is a 3rd from the G note and the D is a 3rd away from the B. This example is of a major chord, but the formula remains the same for minor chords as well. However, minor chords will contain a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd.

Guitar Chord Inversions Demystified

This series of lessons will help you understand how guitar chord inversions are constructed.

Using its simplest definition, a chord inversion is where the root is not the lowest note (often called the bass note) in a chord. This means another note in the chord occupies the bass position.

You’ll often see these altered bass chords written as slash chords (e.g. C/E would imply a C major chord with an E bass note).

So all we’re doing is rearranging the stack of notes in a chord, giving us several possible voicings of the same chord. The benefits of mastering chord inversions are two-fold:

  1. You’ll have more voicing options for a given chord. Inversions give you more specific voicings of each note in a chord, meaning a better flow of harmony through your chord changes. You’ll hear what I mean as you progress.
  2. You’ll be able to play chords in more positions on the fretboard. This means more economical fingering and therefore more possibilities for adding additional notes e.g. for creating phrases around the chord shape.

Guitar Chord Inversions

Chords are in the root position when the root note of a chord is in the bass, or lowest, position. From the point of view of the G major chord above, the root position is when the G note is in the bass position. Thus, the root position of the G major chord will be: G – B – D.

The order of the other notes doesn’t matter. It can be arranged R-3-5, R-5-3, etc. The only thing that matters is the note in the bass position, since it determines the inversion.

This is universal for all chords, be it G major, inversions of minor chords or any others.

Root position

Root position puts the root note in the bass position or in the lowest position.

According to the G major example, the set of notes for the chord will be as follows: G – B – D

1st chord inversion

The first inversion is to make the third the lowest note (the bass) of the chord, creating a 3-5-1 stack.  Although it remains the same chord, this voicing gives it a slightly different sound. In the C major chord, the third is the E note.

So the first inversion is the C chord with the bass on E. The notation most widely used in chord notations to represent inversions is a slash. The set of notes for the first inversion of the G major chord will be as follows: B – D – G

2nd chord inversion

The second inversion puts the 5th in the bass position, creating a stack of 5-1-3. In the C chord, the fifth is the G note.  Again, this is the same chord, but with a different sound and voice acting.

Therefore, the C chord on the 2nd inversion is C/G. In the second inversion, the lowest note is the fifth. The stack of notes for the second inversion of the G major chord will be D – G – B

3rd chord inversion

In the third inversion, the lowest degree is the seventh degree. This inversion needs special care when the seventh is major (7M), as it is located a semitone below the fundamental (1st degree). This can generate a sound discomfort due to this “chromaticism“, as this short distance can give the feeling that we are “missing” the bass by playing the tonic a semitone above what it should be. When the seventh is minor, there is no such problem.

Major Triad Guitar Chord Inversions

From the first chord theory lesson, we learned that a major triad consists of a root (1), 3rd (3) and 5th (5).

For example, a G major triad would consist of the notes GB and D.

Root position

With the root note as the lowest note in the chord, we have two possible root voicings. These are called root positions because the root is the note on which the other chord tones are stacked…

1 – 3 – 5 and 1 – 5 – 3

These are the standard triad “stacks”, with the root on the bass, that occur in the most common chord shapes, like below:

  • B1(2) – G5(1) – D3(3) – A1(4)
  • e1(2) – B2(2) – G3(3) – D1(4) – A5(4) – E1(2)

So in the first chord form, we see the 3rd is built on the root whereas in the second chord form, the 5th is built on the root. Even though there is a different ordering of notes above the root octave in the second example, it’s the bass note we’re particularly interested in when determining an inversion.

Because the root note acts as the bass in both these forms, they will sound quite similar, although it’s good to know both forms for lead voicing (for example, if you specifically need a lower sounding 3rd, you would use the 1 – 3 – 5 chord form).

It’s when you start moving the root out of the bass position that the chord starts to sound altered.

As mentioned before, an inversion occurs when the root is not the bass note of the chord. This means one of the other notes in the chord acts as the bass and the root gets stacked above that note along with any other chord tones.

1st inversion

With a 1st inversion of a major triad, the 3rd becomes the bass and the 5th and root are stacked above it…

3 – 5 – 1

So, let’s say you wanted a 1st inversion G major chord. Simply find the root note of G on the D, G or B strings and build one of the corresponding forms below (you should memorise these shapes)…

  • E String Bass: G5(4) – D1(2) – A5(2) – E3(4)
  • A String Bass: B3(2) – G1(2) – D5(2) – A3(4)
  • D String Bass: B1(3) – G5(2) – D3(4)

2nd inversion

As you can probably guess by process of elimination, with 2nd inversion triads, the 5th becomes the bass with the root and 3rd above it…

5 – 1 – 3

You’ll notice that these chord forms are very similar to the root and 1st inversion forms, with perhaps only one note difference. However, it’s good to be able to break chord forms down like this, to have the option of using different strings for different voicings.

  • E String Bass: G5(1) – D3(3) – A1(4) – E5(4)
  • A String Bass: B5(2) – G3(3) – D1(4) – A5(4)
  • D String Bass: e5(2) – B3(4) – G1(4) – D5(4)

Major Chord Inversion Chart

The below table may come in handy for referencing specific chords and their inversions.

Triad Root Pos.
(1 3 5)
1st Inv.
(3 5 1)
2nd Inv.
(5 1 3)
Cmaj C  E  G E  G  C G  C  E
C#maj C#  E#  G# E#  G#  C# G#  C#  E#
Dmaj D  F#  A F#  A  D A  D  F#
Ebmaj Eb  G  Bb G  Eb Bb Bb  Eb  G
Emaj E  G#  B G#  E  B B  E  G#
Fmaj F  A  C A  C  F C  F  A
F#maj F#  A#  C# A#  C#  F# C#  F#  A#
Gmaj G  B  D B  D  G D  G  B
Abmaj Ab  C  Eb C  Eb  Ab Eb  Ab  C
Amaj A  C#  E C#  E  A E  A  C#
Bbmaj Bb  D  F D  F  Bb F  Bb  D
Bmaj B  D#  F# D#  F#  B F#  B  D#

Minor Triad Guitar Chord Inversions

If you’ve come this far, you should know that a minor triad consists of a root (1), minor 3rd (b3) and 5th (5).

Root position

Just like with major triads, when the root note is the bass note of the chord, we have two root positions…
1 – b3 – 5 and 1 – 5 – b3

On the fretboard, we can simply take the major forms and flatten the 3rd to a minor 3rd…

  • G5(1) – Db3(2) – A1(4)
  • e1(2) – B5(2) – Gb3(2) – D1(4) – A5(4) – E1(2)

1st inversion

With a minor triad first inversion, the minor 3rd becomes the bass and the 5th and root are stacked above…

b3 – 5 – 1

It’s up to you if you use the octave (higher) minor 3rd in these forms. They just help “thicken” up the chord.

  • E String Bass: Gb3(1) – D1(3) – A5(3) – Eb3(4)
  • A String Bass: Bb3(2) – G1(3) – D5(3) – Ab3(4)
  • D String Bass: B1(3) – G5(2) – Db3(3)

2nd inversion

The 5th becomes the bass with the root and minor 3rd above it…

5 – 1 – b3

Again, you can add the octave 5th above the minor 3rd if you wish.

  • E String Bass: Db3(2) – A1(4) – E5(4)
  • A String Bass: B5(2) – Gb3(2) – D1(4) – A5(4)
  • D String Bass: e5(2) – Bb3(3) – G1(4) – D5(4)

Tip: A lot of these inversion forms are just cut down shapes from the common barre chord forms you might know.

For example the D string bass from above is simply the A shape minor barre chord without the root on the A string.

The A string bass from above is taken straight from the E shape minor barre chord shape.

This is why it’s beneficial to learn those E, A, D, C and G form chords early on, because most other chord shapes are derived from them. These core shapes contain all the 3/4 note inversions you’ll ever need.

Minor Chord Inversion Chart

Triad Root Pos.
(1 b3 5)
1st Inv.
(b3 5 1)
2nd Inv.
(5 1 b3)
Cm C  Eb  G Eb  G  C G  C  Eb
C#m C#  E  G# E  G#  C# G#  C#  E
Dm D  F  A F  A  D A  D  F
Ebm Eb  Gb  Bb Gb  Eb Bb Bb  Eb  Gb
Em E  G  B G  E  B B  E  G
Fm F  Ab  C Ab  C  F C  F  Ab
F#m F#  A  C# A  C#  F# C#  F#  A
Gm G  Bb  D Bb  D  G D  G  Bb
Abm Ab  Cb  Eb Cb  Eb  Ab Eb  Ab  Cb
Am A  C  E C  E  A E  A  C
Bbm Bb  Db  F Db  F  Bb F  Bb  Db
Bm B  D  F# D  F#  B F#  B  D

Additional Chord Inversions

The number of inversions for a chord is dependent on the number of notes in the chord. The more notes there are, the more possible inversions you have.

For example, a major 7th chord (maj7) will have the root position and three inversions.

This applies to 9, add9, sus2 chords etc. Again, the ordering of the notes outside of the bass position doesn’t matter.

Conclusion

Guitar chord inversions are just a rearranging of the notes of a chord such that a note aside from the root is in the bass (lowest) position. Chord inversions allow you to play different voicings and add variety and flavor to your playing. You can start utilizing them in your own playing by incorporating them into chord progressions you already know.

Try incorporating the above guitar chord inversions into your practice routine and songwriting. The more you play around with them, the more your ear will be trained to identify such chords and anticipate them in a chord sequence.

FAQ for Learning Guitar Chord Inversions

What are the benefits of learning guitar chord inversions?

Learning guitar chord inversions can be a daunting task. It can take years to learn the chords and their inversions, but there are benefits to doing so. Guitarists who know the chords and their inversions have an advanced knowledge of music theory and are able to play any song or chord progression that they come across.

How long will it take to learn guitar chord inversions?

It will take a lot of time and practice to learn guitar chord inversions. You need to be patient and work on it everyday for at least 30 minutes. It can take up to a year or two before you can master the skill of playing guitar chord inversions.

What are the difficulties with learning guitar chord inversions?

Learning guitar chord inversions can be a difficult task for beginners. It is important to learn the fingerings and understand the underlying theory behind chord inversions before you start learning them.

Which guitar chords are the easiest to play inversions of?

The easiest guitar chords to play inversions of are the ones that only require you to use one finger on one fret. The easiest guitar chords to play inversions of are the C, G, and D chords.

Which guitar chords are the hardest to play inversions of?

The hardest guitar chords to play inversions of are the ones that have more than one finger on the same fret. This is because you have to move your fingers a lot more for these chords. The hardest guitar chords to play inversions of are the ones that require you to use your pinky finger. These chords include the A, B, C and D chords.

Do I need a guitar to learn chord inversions on?

No, you don’t need a guitar to learn chord inversions. You can use your computer keyboard to play the chords.

The chords are written as “C/E”, this means that you play the C chord with your left hand and the E chord with your right hand.

What is the best way to practice chord inversions?

Inversions are the rearrangement of the notes of a chord. When you invert a chord, you change the order of its notes, so that instead of playing them all on the same string or at the same fret, they are played on different strings or frets.

The best way to practice chord inversions is to use a guitar tuner and play each note on an open string, then move up one fret and play it again. This will help you get used to how different chords sound when they are inverted.

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