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#2080250 - 05/10/13 10:06 AM Remembering Chord Inversions?
elementarywatson Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/09/13
Posts: 2
Hey guys, I am self studying music theory and memorised a lot of the tonic triads but now i'm discovering inversions.

Am I right in thinking you have to remember not only the two inversions of the triads (easy enough i guess) but then there is the 7th chord, then the Major7, m7, then sus2 and sus4, 11, 13 chords etc and inversions of all those, for every note!!!

This seems like a crazy amount of information to remember.

I am interested in jazz chords, so just remembering triads aint really gonna do it! I love Lonnie Liston Smith/George Duke that kind of thing. plz explain if there is a simpler method to having this info so its easy to remember, therefore fluid to play.

Also what were your journeys to learning inversions.

Thank you

Edited by elementarywatson (05/10/13 10:07 AM)

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#2080265 - 05/10/13 10:28 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1554
Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I don't really remember inversions as completely separate things, per se. They're all part of one key, and if you know what key you're in and the particular type of chord that you need in that key, then the inversions kind of just follow somewhat naturally.

I know in jazz there are a lot of complicated chord constructions, and I don't presume to know how to conjure all of them at any given time. But if I had to really commit them to instant recall, I don't know that I would separate out all the inversions so much as be dead certain what key I'm in and the chord I'm going for so that the inversion is a quick determination on the fly rather than a thing in and of itself. My sense is the key and chord is more of the automatic part, and then what you're doing IN that key and chord are small clicks of the brain within them.

But, like I said, I'm not a jazz player, so hopefully someone who is can weigh in and share how they have worked it out in their head.
Scales. Scales and arpeggios. Scales, arpeggios and chords.
Chopin, Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. post. 66
Tchaikovsky, Avril: Perce-neige Op. 37a No. 4
Scriabin, Three Pieces, Op. 2

#2080283 - 05/10/13 11:16 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2454
Loc: Virginia, USA
Who has time to remember all that? Not me, never have, never will.

Because that's not the way to remember them. You need to know basic theory of chords and the rest will come. Sure it's helpful for your fingers to know the patterns for each key but that's almost separate.

Music theory is your friend here. Major, minor triads. Those are easy enough (just one note difference from each) and the the inversions are just that - inverted versions of them. So, C-E-G is the major triad and then first inversion is E-G-C and second, G-C-E. Do I remember that though? No, just remember the pattern and apply to any key.

For figured bass (17th century) you had to know the inversion symbols (first inversion is 6 and second is 6/4 which comes from the intervals involved) but more modern chords would be written with the bass note to play.
  • Schumann - Ende vom Lied, Opus 12.8
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

Kawai K3

#2080298 - 05/10/13 11:50 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
R0B Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/03/08
Posts: 1449
Loc: Australia
For inversions, start with the tonic. e.g. C E G.
That C major chord only consists of those three notes.

Now look at the notes you are playing in 'root' position.
C is the lowest.
For first inversion, the next note (E) will be the lowest.
You still need a G and a C, so play those keys above E.
Second inversion, starts on G. You now need to add a C, and an E.

Rinse and repeat, for all root position chords.

7th chords will have three inversions, as they consist of four notes, but the same principle applies

Here is a little 'cheat' system for other modifications:

Count in semi-tones (half steps)

Major = 1(root), 5, 8
Minor = 1, 4, 8
7th = 1, 5, 8, 11
Maj7 = 1, 5, 8, 12
Sus4 = 1, 6, 8
Sus2 = 1, 3, 8
Dim = 1, 4, 7
Aug = 1, 5, 9
....and so on.

#2080302 - 05/10/13 11:58 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
jotur Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5806
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
I remember them visually and physically. As others have said, I remember the root position triad, and the root position 7 chord. Then I play inversions up and down the keyboard, and I can feel the chord, and see it. Then, when I'm playing, in keys for which I'm less familiar, I can "see" the chord on the piano - I don't think "inversion", I think the chord, and make sure I have the pitches in it, or whichever notes of the pitches I want to play. For keys in which I play most of the time I no longer have to visualize, it just comes.

I have found that playing a tune "in all keys" has helped a lot in getting familiar with the way chords look/feel/sound - a chord is common to several different keys. It will be the tonic in one key, the fifth of another one, the fourth of yet another, etc. So when it comes up in a key I'm less familiar with the chord itself has a "homey" feel.

So for me it's a matter of use after I know the theory.

If any of that makes any sense smile


#2080315 - 05/10/13 12:31 PM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 676
Loc: Chicago
I would not spend any time learning all the inversions of 7th chords for jazz.
If you are playing solo piano, your left hand should use shell voicings, which is the root and seventh or root and third. Your right hand will fill in additional notes. If you are playing with a bass player, you'll play rootless voicings in the left hand. There are generally two conversions that are used, one with the seventh as the low note, and one with the third as the lowest note.

I'm probably trying to say too much in too short a space about jazz voicings. But the real point is that you don't need to most of the inversions for the seventh chords. Get a book on jazz piano voicings (one good one is Mark Levine's) and see what kinds of voicings are commonly used and learn those in all keys.

#2080414 - 05/10/13 04:04 PM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1865
Loc: Reseda, California
Instead of trying to learn all possible chords and inversions, just learn the few you need for each piece you want to play.

The practical way to keep track of them is the "slash" notation. For instance, C7/E means you play a C7 chord, but invert it so that the lowest note is E.

Learn the chord in root position. Put your fingers on the keys for that. Then take the top note and move it to the bottom over and over until you've gone through all the inversions. Do it over and over again until you run out of keys. Then do it all again bottom to top.

One other thing you'll find out doing that is that dense chords get muddy as you go deeper into the bass. That's why other posters have recommended playing "shell" chords there, and moving the middles up to the right hand.

Edited by JohnSprung (05/10/13 04:07 PM)
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

#2080576 - 05/11/13 01:38 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
UK Paul UK Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/22/11
Posts: 396
Loc: Berkshire, England
Knowing all chords wont make music. Play music and just note what is incorporated in each particular song. Its easier for your brain to learn this way than just bashing through chords and inversions day in... day out.... plus you will play more music... which is kinda the point of all we do

#2081303 - 05/12/13 10:22 AM Re: Remembering Chord Inversions? [Re: elementarywatson]
elementarywatson Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/09/13
Posts: 2
Thank you all for your replies.

That shell voicing topic is a revelation to me, very interesting I will practice that.

Nice to know I don't have to remember them all!

Thanks again


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