This series of lessons will help you understand how guitar chord
inversions are constructed. Chord inversion is a relatively
advanced concept, but it shouldn't be difficult to grasp if you've been
through the chord
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
inversions are two-fold:
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.
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.
Major triad guitar chord inversions
From the first chord theory lesson, we learned that a major triad
consists of a root (1),
and 5th (5).
For example, a G major triad would consist of the notes G,
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
These are the standard triad "stacks", with the root on the bass, that
occur in the most common
chord shapes, like below.
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
(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.
With a 1st inversion of a major triad, the 3rd becomes the bass and the
5th and root are stacked above it...
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)...
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.
Major chord inversion chart
The below table may come in handy for referencing specific chords and
If you've come this far, you should know that a minor triad
consists of a root (1),
minor 3rd (b3)
and 5th (5).
Just like with major triads, when the root
note is the bass note of the chord, we have two root
On the fretboard, we can simply take the major forms and flatten the
3rd to a minor 3rd...
With a minor triad first inversion, the minor 3rd becomes the bass and
5th and root are stacked above...
It's up to you if you use the octave (higher) minor 3rd in these forms.
They just help "thicken" up the chord.
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.
A lot of these inversion forms are just cut down shapes from the common
chord forms you might know.
example the D string bass form above is simply the A shape minor barre
chord without the root on the A string. Can you see it?
The A string bass form above is taken straight from the E shape minor
barre chord shape.
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
(1 b3 5)
(b3 5 1)
(5 1 b3)
C Eb G
Eb G C
G C Eb
C# E G#
E G# C#
G# C# E
D F A
F A D
A D F
Eb Gb Bb
Gb Eb Bb
Bb Eb Gb
E G B
G E B
B E G
F Ab C
Ab C F
C F Ab
F# A C#
A C# F#
C# F# A
G Bb D
Bb D G
D G Bb
Ab Cb Eb
Cb Eb Ab
Eb Ab Cb
A C E
C E A
E A C
Bb Db F
Db F Bb
F Bb Db
B D F#
D F# B
F# B D
In the next part we'll look at 7th chord inversions.
meantime, try incorporating the above guitar chord inversions in to
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.