What Are Chord Inversions For Guitar?

One of the most empowering skills for advancing guitar chord mastery involves learning chord inversions. Many intermediate players have a breakthrough aha moment when first experimenting with these altered chord voicings that unlock fresh sounds while expanding harmonic options.

Let’s explore what defines a chord inversion, why guitarists use them, and key tips for incorporating inversions when comping rhythm parts or songwriting.

Defining Chord Inversions

A chord inversion simply rearranges the ordering of notes within any standard chord. Typically chords stack notes in thirds from a foundational root on the bottom with additional color tones like thirds, fifths, and sevenths building on top. The lowest bass note sound gives us the sensation of the key – this is called the root note.

In root position, the root resides in the lowest register while upper extensions fill out the chord’s character. To invert a chord means taking the root note and shifting it an octave higher while preserving all other interval relationships intact above or below that displaced root.

Electric guitar player

First, Second, and Third Inversions

There are three main types of chord inversions defined by which note now subs for the missing root one octave up the neck.

First inversion – the third of the chord becomes the bass note

Second inversion – the fifth of the chord becomes the bass note

Third inversion – the seventh of the chord (for seventh chords only) becomes the bass note

On guitar keeping the upper structure while moving the root around proves quite simple thanks to the same finger patterns repeating across different string groups in different octaves.

Reasons to Use Chord Inversions

Why bother shifting chords from root position at all? What purpose does this serve musically? There are several fantastic benefits exploring chord inversions provides guitarists:

More Harmonic Options

By putting various chord extensions like the 3rd, 5th, or 7th in the bass role, we instantly open fresh substitutions to use in chord progressions. Songs often use repetitive sequences like I-IV-V7 patterns. Throwing an occasional inverted chord maintains movement without losing too much familiarity.

Melodic Interest

Inversions also create smoother stepwise connections between bass notes. Rather than only large root leaps dictating chord changes, different inversions offer bass lines that “walk” up or down scalar tones. This adds melodic development making harmonic accompaniments less static.

Unique Tonal Colors

Not only do alternate bass roles provide logical harmonic changes, but they also offer new emotional sentiments. First inversions tend to sound light and uplifting. Second inversions come across as stable and suspended. And third inversions take on a yearning jazzy tension. Inversions sprinkle more diverse moods through a simple concept.

How to Play Chord Inversions on Guitar

Physically turning root position chords into inversions follows an intuitive process thanks to guitar architecture:

Repeat the Chord Shape Elsewhere

Find the chord voicing’s root note and visualize shifting it an octave higher while keeping upper notes steady. This requires locating the same box shape elsewhere on the neck to put a new bass note underneath.

Pivot Finger Stays Grounded

When sliding a chord shape to its inverted position, only the lowest pitch moves. Keep other fingers rooted on their same fretted notes like a pivot, just jumping the overall shape higher by one octave.

Listen for New Extensions Below

Try various root shifts that position chord extensions like the 3rd, 5th, or 7th notes into the bass clef rather than defaulting to open bottom strings. Let your ear guide inversion choices.

With small shifts, an endless combination of chord inversions emerges from any starting voicing. Tinker and explore!

Using Chord Inversions When Comping

The most practical way to apply new chord inversion knowledge involves rhythm guitar comping with chord accompaniment behind melodies. Think of chord inversions as extra tools offering substitutes for basic major and minor shapes during songs.

Spell Progressions in Bass Movement

Sketch a simplified bass line first in your comping concept working chord choices from there. This inversion awareness keeps movement melodically engaging.

Resolve Lines With Careful Planning

Use voice leading diminished and secondary dominant chords before resolving back “home”. Visualize smooth contrary string motion in your guitar arrangements.

Infuse Jazzy Colors as Passing Tones

Splice in second inversion major chords or third inversion minor chords to add spicy tensions. Resolve back to root position soon after. Play with flexible dissonant varieties.

Chord inversions bring professional polish and satisfying dynamic growth to guitar accompaniment parts.

FAQs About Guitar Chord Inversions

Q: Why are chord inversions possible on guitar?

Unlike piano, guitar strings repeat the same note letter names in different octaves across the fretboard. This duplication enables guitarists to simply slide chord shapes up or down maintaining harmonic relationships. Our instruments allow quick and easy access to every chord inversion.

Q: Do I need to learn inversions for basic beginner chords?

Not necessarily – you’ll gain plenty of mileage from standard major and minor chords in root position when starting out. But early inversion practice does train your ear faster to the color variations and establishes good fretboard visualization habits. Consider at least recognizing their sound.

Q: Is there a maximum number of chord inversions?

Actually no – once you apply the concept of redistributing chord tones in new bass to octave groupings, exponentially more options open up. After basic third and fifth inversions, get creative with other passing root movements like sixths, sevenths, and ninths. Let your ear guide pleasing combinations.


From unlocking substitutions to creative chord progressions to allowing smoother voice leading between changes, chord inversions empower guitarists with more choice. Learning to play the same familiar chords flipped opens diverse shades of emotional expression and harmonic possibility.

By practicing visualizing chord tones reorganized across octaves, guitar players gain better comfort navigating the fretboard while training their ear to newfound nuanced tension and resolution. If looking to elevate chord knowledge past beginner shapes, exploring chord inversion territories paves that path expertly.

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