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Thread: Need some clarification on inversions

  1. #1
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    Need some clarification on inversions

    Hi, I'm wondering when is it best to use inversions? For example, if I play a normal V I'm going to get the ii, which is getting pretty high in pitch. Is it most common to always play some sort of inversion on the V (or any other chord that gets too high or low a pitch). Basically, I'm wondering what the main purpose of inverted chords are--to even out the general pitch of the song or is it rather to give special character to chords?

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    Just to be sure we're understanding your question correctly:

    Roman numerals are generally used to refer to chords, with "ii" indicating the minor (hence the lower case) chord built on the second degree of the scale - so Dm in the key of C.

    I take it you maybe mean that if you play I-V root position triads, say C-G, the D note in the G chord (a ninth above the root C) is too high?

    Is this something you're observing in practice (on guitar? using what chord voicings?), or is it a more "theoretical" concern?

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Not really sure what you are asking. Normally an inversion is used to change it up a bit, i.e. to add a new sound into the mix. Beyond that I do not know of any "rule" as to which inversion is THE BEST or why you would not want the root as the low note. Depends on what you are looking for. Check it out http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/out here.

    We (well most of us) talk/write like this:
    Roman numbers for Chords. Upper case being major chords, lower case being minor chords.
    Arabic numbers for notes. As in - the 1, 3, 5 notes of the C major chord are chord tones.
    I have seen lower case letters used to signify the note name, as in c, e & g are the notes in the C triad - to signify notes and not chords. This is rare, however.

    If I missed your question, rephrase.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 04-11-2012 at 12:26 AM.

  4. #4
    BMus (Hons), MA, PGCE JumpingJack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EaZiE View Post
    Hi, I'm wondering when is it best to use inversions?
    Inversions give variety to a piece of music, particularly one which relies on only a few chords to begin with (I,IV,V for example).

    Since the inversion of a chord is dependendant on which note is in the bass, one of the reasons to choose one inversion over another is to give the bass some character or to make it smoother.

    A first inversion ii chord moving to a root position V chord for example (more common than the other way around) generally makes a smoother bass line than if they are both in root position.

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    Yep, I meant the ninth, actually. That was what I was wondering. Do you use inversions to keep the overall pitch within a narrower range. Like instead of using the ninth on V chord you actually use the major second. I wasn't sure how common it was too. Or is it to give a different color? or both? I do know that it takes a minute to think of an inversion chord structure in contrast to the simple basic form. Thanks

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EaZiE View Post
    Yep, I meant the ninth, actually. That was what I was wondering. Do you use inversions to keep the overall pitch within a narrower range. Like instead of using the ninth on V chord you actually use the major second. I wasn't sure how common it was too. Or is it to give a different color? or both? I do know that it takes a minute to think of an inversion chord structure in contrast to the simple basic form. Thanks
    Sounds like you're talking about voicings not inversions. Just to go over the definitions so we're sure what you're asking (and so you are too)

    An "inversion" is just a chord with a non-root chord tone on the bottom (either 3rd, 5th or 7th).

    "Root position" = root on the bottom
    "1st inversion" = 3rd on the bottom
    "2nd inversion" = 5th on the bottom
    "3rd inversion" = 7th on the bottom

    If you put any other chord tone or scale degree on the bottom (eg 6th, 9th, 4th) it becomes a different chord, because those notes will assume a root role, aurally. That doesn't happen with 3rd, 5th or 7th. (Although there can be debates about the effect of 2nd and 3rd inversions... we don't need to go there)

    The point here is that an inversion doesn't specify how you arrange the rest of the notes on top of that bass note. Eg, these are all 1st inversion G7 chords:

    -1-------3---10---10---------------
    -----3---3---8----8----------------
    -0---0------------10---------------
    -0---3---3--------9----------------
    -2---2---2---8---------------------
    -------------7--------------------

    B is the bottom note in all of them, but the G B and D notes above can go any distance apart, in any octave. (And you can double up any of them too - although there can be strict rules about that if you're studying classical harmony.)
    Those different shapes are all the same "inversion", but they are all different "voicings" of the chord.
    Which one you'd choose would depend on which one you liked the sound of - and which one suited the context (fitted best with the chords either side).

    There are various terms for different kinds of voicing - "close", "open", "drop 2", etc, but you don't really need to know those, IMO (unless of course you want to discuss such things with other musicians...).


    On guitar, then, a "voicing" is essentially (but not always) the same thing as a "shape". "Shape" obviously refers to what it looks (and feels) like - and has meaning only for a guitarist (a technical term); "voicing" is the term referring to the vertical arrangement of the pitches, so applies to any instrument or set of instruments (ie, a theoretical term).

    Bear in mind that the same voicing can be played with different shapes. These two shapes are the same voicing (and the same inversion):

    x-x-9-10-8-10
    x-14-15-12-15-x

    The only difference is in the tone quality, and the practicality: on an acoustic, the 2nd one would be tough; and on electric, where both are easy, it would depend on the shapes before and after.


    Anyway, your question about the 9th, therefore, is a voicing question, There is no rule other than what "sounds good" - which means "sounds how you want it to sound" .
    It's generally most common to stack 9th chords in order from the bottom - 1-3-5-7-9 (b7 if it's a V, a dominant 9th). They sound strongest and clearest that way.
    But - (a) on guitar that's not really possible (with very few exceptions)! - and (b) the way you voice a chord should always be dependent on its context - within the options available on your instrument, of course, which are much fewer on guitar than on piano.

    The way chords work in most music is they link to the chords either side by what's known as "voice-leading". This may not apply to the bass (which can jump around a fair amount), but should normally apply to the other notes.
    Typically, a note on one chord will move to the nearest note on the next chord: which is usually one scale degree away, or might even be the same note. If you can do this with all the chords in a progression (excepting or including the bass), you will get a very satisfying and smooth-sounding sequence.
    The word "voice" is significant: think of each string of your guitar (or each note in a piano chord) as a singer. Each singer wants to move the shortest distance possible to his/her next note. Each of them will then end up singing a melody of their own.
    A sequence of 7th chords will then be like 4 simultaneous melodies. (Or more, if you double up any of the notes).

    Of course, one doesn't always want "smooth" sounds! But it's important to understand this principle so you can apply it or not, as you choose.

    So, with your 9th chord, you can put the 9th anywhere you want - except as lowest note of all, in the bass: you might like that sound, but it just means it will become a different chord, and you need to rename it.

    It can go right above the root - as the "2nd" - but it's still technically a "9th" if there's a 7th elsewhere in the chord.
    If there is no 7th, then the chord is an "add9" - and voicing the note low in the chord (a step above the root) is often called in common parlance, "add2".
    But either name is "correct" - because chord symbols aren't designed (or expected) to specify voicing

    (I hope that's not Too Much Info....)

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    Quote Originally Posted by EaZiE View Post
    Yep, I meant the ninth, actually. That was what I was wondering. Do you use inversions to keep the overall pitch within a narrower range. Like instead of using the ninth on V chord you actually use the major second.
    From the way I understand your question you're talking about (again going back to the C-G root position example) the D note of the G chord - the fifth of that (V) chord - being "too high".

    I did refer to such a note being an interval of ninth higher than the root of the *C* (I) chord (in the context of trying to clarify if you were asking if all the notes of the progression should reside within some narrower range), however you would not refer to it as "the ninth" of the V chord, nor if you played the 2nd inversion (with the D note an octave lower, in the bass) would you refer to it as "the major second" of the V chord - in any inversion or voicing a D note is always the fifth of that chord - sorry if I caused you any confusion there.
    Last edited by walternewton; 04-13-2012 at 07:40 PM.

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