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Thread: Inversions

  1. #1
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    Inversions

    Hello my friends

    I wonder why are inversions needed. I haven't studied it yet but, is it possible to be explained in a few lines? I mean, what is the goal to use them? What one is trying to achieve by using them?

    Thank you

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    IMHO inversions make since for the keyboardist. Take a little too much effort for the fretboardest IMHO.

    An inversion of the C chord would be:
    C E G or
    E G C or
    G C E now this is a simple thing for the keyboardist - and is quite effective for matching melody notes to more than one syllable words or for endings, etc. Recognizing that the order of the notes is open using an inversion can shorten the distance needed between chord movement (C-F-G) - on a keyboard.

    Simple on the keyboard hard on a stringed instrument. Chromatics could be used for about the same effect, again IMHO.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 02-22-2011 at 12:54 PM.

  3. #3
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    I wonder why are inversions needed. I haven't studied it yet but, is it possible to be explained in a few lines? I mean, what is the goal to use them? What one is trying to achieve by using them?
    As you know inversions are just chords "turned on their sides" so that a different chord tone is the lowest note. What this gives us is different sounds for the same chord, variations if you will - so overall a range of options relative to the sound of the chord and it's bass note.

    Personally I find inversions fascinating and use them often. For example I'll use the highest note to create a melodic line and the lowest note to create another contrasting line.

    Here's a couple of examples for the fretboard (I should record these since the notation doesn't do them justice. I embellish and finger-pick these sequences):

    G major > D/F# > Bm7b5/F > E7
    x-10-9-7-8-x > x-9-7-7-7-x > x-8-9-7-10-x > x-7-9-7-9-x

    G/D > G/D > C/E > Cm6/Eb > G/D
    x-5-5-4-3-x > x-5-5-4-3-x > x-7-10-9-8-x > x-6-8-8-10-x > x-5-5-7-8-7

    G > G > C > Cm69 > G/B
    x-10-9-7-8-x > x-10-9-7-8-x > 8-x-10-9-8-x > 8-x-8-8-10-10 > 7-10-9-7-8-7

    On their own inversions are just variations of the main chords. But they become powerful tools when used to create sounds that otherwise would not be possible. A C/E is strangely similar to an Emin - but not an Emin and different from a C major root position. C/G is similar to a Gsus4 but not the same and again different from a root position C major.

    I agree with Malcolm that they are easy on the keyboard but I think they are only difficult for the "fretboardist" because guitarists think in terms of chord shapes rather than chords as collections of notes. Once you get to the point where you think of chords as note-sets and know the fretboard well enough to find those notes wherever you are - then inversions become a beautiful option to explore.

    cheers,
    Last edited by Jed; 02-22-2011 at 01:10 PM.

  4. #4
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    My "suspicions", from what I know about them, were that they exist as an "adaptation" to an instrument (basically what Malcolm said). Also, I was thinking that they would be a different "disposition" of the chords notes to add variety, just like you said.
    I remember reading somewhere that inversions are great to find bass lines, allowing one to have a bass line "based" in the chord and not in a specific key.

    Knowing the purpose of things, to me, makes it easier to learn.

  5. #5
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    Knowing the purpose of things, to me, makes it easier to learn.
    I know how you feel and I agree. I have similar thoughts. The difference for me is that I accept basic theory fundamentally as the answer to every question musical. So if I don't understand something, I assume that it's my own lack of understanding of basic theory that is at fault - and so I study the basics at a deeper level.

    By way of example, I've been studying the ramifications of the diminished pentatonic (1, b3, b5, b6, b7) for about a year now. This scale explains and explores why and how the V, V7, V9, VII°, VIIm7b5, IIm and IIm6 chords relate. I know it's very powerful but for some reason I find it difficult to internalize this scale in all the keys. But I'm convinced that once I do internalize it in every key - I'll have made great strides towards internalizing the dominant harmonic function. So for me it's worth all the time and trouble. I went through a similar study of inversions and found it very worthwhile.

    cheers,

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    My "suspicions", from what I know about them, were that they exist as an "adaptation" to an instrument (basically what Malcolm said).
    Not originally.
    Of course, with guitar, certain common chord shapes happen to be inversions, because of the way the instrument is tuned. But inversions were used way back at the beginning of harmony, when it involved choirs and keyboard instruments - neither of which have instrumental limitations that require inversions. IOW, they were a creative choice by composers and arrangers, because of their sound, not their instrumental practicality.
    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    I remember reading somewhere that inversions are great to find bass lines, allowing one to have a bass line "based" in the chord and not in a specific key.
    Well, such a bass line can still be in the same key. Inversions certainly allow for more interesting and melodic bass parts, because they enable the bass line to move by step even when the chord root movement doesn't. Or OTOH, to vary the bass line when the chord stays the same.

    Eg the following popular sequence:

    C - G/B - Am - Em/G - F - C/E - Dm - (G- C)

    The slash chords are all 1st inversion. The sequence allows a descending bass line C-B-A-G-F-E-D.

    Of course, one could get such a bass line with all root position chords:

    C - Bdim - Am - G - F - Em - Dm - (G - C)

    But try them both. I think you'll hear that the 2nd one is not nearly as good to listen to as the first one. In the first, one, the other chord voices all move differently - sometimes holding the same note. In the second, they all move in parallel with the bass.

    There are, of course, other variations (thanks to all the inversions available) which give the same bass line, and still stay in key. Here's one:

    C - Em/B - F/A - C/G - F - Am/E - Dm - Dm7/C - G/B - C

    That's a mix of 1st inversions (F/A, G/B), 2nd inversions (Em/B, C/G, Am/E) and 3rd inversions (Dm7/C).

    Of course, bass lines don't have to move down the scale like this. But you can see the creative freedom that inversions give.
    Last edited by JonR; 02-22-2011 at 04:39 PM.

  7. #7
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    In "classical" music, inversions are often used to provide a smooth bass line. A well-known example is the chord progression used in Pachelbel's Canon (and by lots of other composers before and after Pachelbel.)

    The chord pattern is I,V,vi,iii,IV,I,ii,V (a nice pattern; it doesn't really have a cadence so one can just build on the end.) In the key of C, the notes would be, C,G,A,E,F,C,D,G. The pattern is "up a fifths" followed by "up a second."

    One could interleave first-inversion chords with root position chords to get, I,V6,vi,iii6,IV,I6,ii,V with the bass line C,B,A,G,F,E,D,G. This bass is a descending scale (until the last note). I'm guessing that this is how Pachelbel derived the pattern.

    Using a few inversions here and there can lead tosmoother bass lines.

  8. #8
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    By way of example, I've been studying the ramifications of the diminished pentatonic (1, b3, b5, b6, b7) for about a year now. This scale explains and explores why and how the V, V7, V9, VII°, VIIm7b5, IIm and IIm6 chords relate. I know it's very powerful but for some reason I find it difficult to internalize this scale in all the keys. But I'm convinced that once I do internalize it in every key - I'll have made great strides towards internalizing the dominant harmonic function. So for me it's worth all the time and trouble. I went through a similar study of inversions and found it very worthwhile.
    I'm starting to think the same about invertions because I can see they allow me to make better music, with more variety and a better harmony.

    Or OTOH, to vary the bass line when the chord stays the same.
    That's what I meant when I said the bass being based in a chord and not in a specific key.

    I wanted to hear your examples but I could not understand the notation.
    I've found this one, it will help, at least to understand just the basics.

    A well-known example is the chord progression used in Pachelbel's Canon...
    Beautiful music. Here's the link. Is it possible for you to post the staff of your example or point me a site where I can find it?

    Thank you
    Last edited by rbarata; 02-22-2011 at 11:07 PM.

  9. #9
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    I wanted to hear your examples but I could not understand the notation.
    I've found this one, it will help, at least to understand just the basics.
    My chord symbols are standard in rock and jazz, known as "slash" chords.
    The letter before the slash is the chord, the letter after is the bass note. This is as shown on the site you linked to above.
    The first illustration on that page shows "figured bass": roman numerals, some with figures attached.
    As explained there, "IV6/4" (with the 4 below the 6) refers to a "2nd inversion" F chord, what rock and jazz players would write as "F/C" (F chord with C bass). The symbol "V6" refers to a first inversion G chord, aka "G/B" (G chord with B in bass). Again, this is shown on that site.

    Figured bass is the system used in classical music. Slash chords are preferred in rock and jazz - an dhave the advantage of being able to show any bass note, including one that's not part of the chord. (That may be possible in figured bass, but would be quite advanced.)
    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    Beautiful music. Here's the link. Is it possible for you to post the staff of your example or point me a site where I can find it?

    Thank you
    Here's notation for my above example, extended to give a scale-wise bass descent through two octaves. Somewhat over the top, but just to demonstrate the principle!
    The voicings in treble clef are optional; some of the rules of classical voice-leading have been broken, I'm sure (a few parallel octaves going on...), but never mind.
    An MP3 is also attached, so you can hear it.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by JonR; 02-23-2011 at 01:37 AM.

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    Beautiful music. Here's the link. Is it possible for you to post the staff of your example or point me a site where I can find it?

    Thank you
    Sheet music for Pachelbel's Canon can be found in a few places online, including a downloadable PDF from here:
    http://www.free-scores.com/download-...php?pdf=26797#

    The chords in this case are not inversions - all are in root position, at least in the early sections. The whole sequence is only 2 bars long, and consists of the following 8 chords (1 beat each):
    D - A - Bm - F#m - G - D - G - A
    Those chords loop while the melodic content repeats and overlaps. (The word "canon" means a tune where the melody repeats in different registers, and harmonises with itself.)

    As you can see from the opening bars, there are two descending lines running through first 6 or 7 notes: D C# B A G F# E (upper line of treble clef); and F# E D C# B A (lower line of treble clef).
    Either of these lines would work as bass lines, and produce inversions of some of the chords.

    BTW, in the youtube video you posted, they are playing in Db major, not D (in case you want to play along). This may be because they are using original instrumentation, and references for standard pitch were lower in the Baroque era than today.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert..._Western_music

    There are many youtube clips in modern concert D, such as this piano arrangement:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABBzejbplVQ
    Orchestral version:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Af37...eature=related
    Last edited by JonR; 02-23-2011 at 01:38 AM.

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    JonR, Thanks for the additional info of your example. I'll take a closer look at it.
    The link for the score is blocked here but I suspect it is the same site I've been. I have found a 4 or 5 pages score for this piece but I was not sure if it was the one I was looking for (there were no chords in that score).

    One more question: when we find a piece with inversions, what kind of information can we get from it, i.e., does the fact of inversions exist implicate something?

  12. #12
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    JonR, Thanks for the additional info of your example. I'll take a closer look at it.
    The link for the score is blocked here but I suspect it is the same site I've been. I have found a 4 or 5 pages score for this piece but I was not sure if it was the one I was looking for (there were no chords in that score).

    One more question: when we find a piece with inversions, what kind of information can we get from it, i.e., does the fact of inversions exist implicate something?
    Well, only the bass line.
    Inversions don't sound as resolved as root position chords, so you'll never find one at the end of a tune. (Or, if you do, it won't sound finished.)
    Ie, inversions are always going somewhere - and the bass will likely be one of the "leading" voices.

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    In this page, I have some doubts in the G chord in 1st inversion.
    The author puts the 3rd in the bass which gives B-G-D.
    But I've learned that the first inversion is to take the chord in root position and raise the root note to the upper position, one octave higher.
    In this case the notes sequence will be B-D-G and not B-G-D as in the example.

    What happened here?

    And when the slash notation is used, how can I distinguish a first inversion from the second? This notation doesn't make any distinction between them?

  14. #14
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Inversions are actually named according to the function (relative to the chord) of the lowest note.

    So Cmaj implies a C major chord with a C in the lowest note, but it doesn't define how we organize the other notes - just that they be restricted to C's, E's & G's

    root position - means the root or 1st is the lowest note
    1st inversion - means the 3rd is the lowest note
    2nd inversion - means the 5th is the lowest note
    4th inversion - means the 7th is the lowest note

  15. #15
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    And when the slash notation is used, how can I distinguish a first inversion from the second? This notation doesn't make any distinction between them?
    And here we are right back to needing to "know" you chord spellings, huh?

    I know I sound like a broken record, but there really is no escape. To understand music theory you have to know all of the major scales and all of the chord spellings. Having that knowledge is not where things end - it's just the beginning.

    Slash notation places the lowest note after the slash. That note can be a chord tone - in which case we can determine the inversion name / number. But the note after the slash doesn't need to be a chord tone - although in actual usage it most often is.

    C = root position, C in the bass
    C/E = 1st inversion, E in the bass
    C/G = 2nd inversion, G in the bass

    C/D = C major triad over a D bass note (could also be written as Cadd9/D)
    C/F = C major triad over an F bass note (a common Fmaj7 sound without the 3rd)
    C/A = C major triad over an A bass (more commonly written as Am7)
    C/B = C major triad over a B bass (more commonly written as Cmaj7/B but rarely seen because it sounds bad to many people's ears)

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