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Thread: How to implement inversions on the guitar?

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2017

    How to implement inversions on the guitar?

    Dear fellow musicians,

    For the last years Iíve been struggling with implementing inversions in the songs I play. Especially choosing which inversions to use when. With the piano it is seen as best practice in general to use inversions that are near the chord youíre already playing. On the guitar Iíve never encountered any charts that show different chord combinations that you could use together best.

    Do you know of certain books/resources that show good practices of which inversions to use together?

    I understand that some of you may say I have to learn to think for myself, but my experience is that this works best when youíve had some good examples.

    Kind regards,

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    I'd look at walking bass lines for guitar.

    I learned this type of playing from private instruction years ago so I haven't read a book on it. I did a quick search and found this though:


    Hope that helps

  3. #3
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    New England
    Using inversions on the guitar is no different than using inversions on a keyboard. The only practical difference is that people "see" a chord on the piano as a collection of notes, variable in structure as long as the right notes are sounded - while many people "see" chords on the guitar as "shapes" rather than collections of notes. (Seeing chords as shapes makes it harder to to learn to voice-leading smoothly) "Voice-leading" is the term commonly used to describe playing chord forms that are physically (and musically) "close" to each other. Voice-leading is often used while "comp'ing" to provide complementary movement to the melody or solo lines. Technically the term "inversion" refers to the use of a bass note for a particular chord other than the chord's root note. So we talk about inversions to define a chord played "over it's 3rd" or "5th". But this is fundamentally different from "voice leading" which is concerned with minimizing the jump or intervallic distances for each voice within the music as we move from one chord to another.

    There are many different types of inversions for each chord on the guitar (just as there are on the piano). Inversions on either instrument are based on the various types of chord voicing structure. For example "closed (within one octave) voicings" versus "open (larger than one octave) voicings". For 7th chords common guitar voicings come in the form of "drop-2", "drop-3" and "drop-2&4" voicings - due to the way a guitar is tuned and the way that chords "lay" on the fretboard.

    For example, minor 7th voicings in D minor (drop-2 voicings):
    x 3 3 2 3 x = C F A D = 3rd inversion, root in the lead
    x 5 7 5 6 x = D A C F = Root Position, 3rd in the lead
    x 8 10 7 10 x = F C D A = 1st inversion, 5th in the lead
    x 12 12 10 13 x = A D F C - 2nd inversion, 7th in the lead

    Note: Drop-2 voicings fit well on any group of four adjacent strings

    In the above voicings, and given the overall range of the guitar, these voicings are commonly used to provide "complementary movement" via the "top" and "inner voices" while comp'ing as opposed to how inversions are mostly concerned with the bass note. This is to say that the "top" voice seems to stand-out a bit more when using these voicings.

    For an example that is stronger in the aspects of an inversion (manipulating the bass note), "drop-3" and "drop-2&4" voicings are handy.
    An example, minor 7th voicings in D minor (drop-3 voicings):
    5 x 3 5 3 x = A F C D = 2nd inversion, root in the lead
    8 x 7 7 6 x = C A D F = 3rd inversion, 3rd in the lead
    10 x 10 10 10 x = D C F A = Root position, 5th in the lead
    12 x 12 14 13 x = F D A C = 1st inversion, 7th in the lead

    Note: Drop-3 voicings fit best on any group of "one skip three" adjacent strings like 6-4-3-2 or 5-3-2-1 string groups.

    I hope that starts to address your question regarding inversions and voicing leading. Trust me, I know this is a lot of information but I have no easy answer for your original question. Cheers, Jed

  4. #4
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    New England
    I just re-read your original post. Please excuse the technical response I gave initially. The reason charts don't show inversions for guitar parts is that it is left up to the musician to choose which inversions and voicings they feel best fits the material and the situation. This works well for players that know a ton of chord voicings but less well for a student starting to explore the many available voicings.

    The difficulty goes back to the comment I made about "seeing the notes". While "seeing the notes" is obvious on a keyboard with it's one simple repeating pattern - it is exponentially more difficult on the guitar with it's one simple repeating pattern but off-set five times. Any note on a piano looks the same irrespective of the octave while any note/pitch is available in only one location. On the guitar this is not true. The same note / pitch may be available on up to five different strings in five different locations - each one looking completely unique. Each different octave of the note has it's own unique set of duplicates on various strings and positions. This difference is the fundamental reason why so many guitarist "think" in shapes rather than notes. Thinking in terms of notes on the fretboard is a lot of work. Well worth the effort but a difficult hill to climb.

    That being said, the intelligent guitarist that wants to explore inversions and voice-leading on the guitar is well advised to learn to "see" the notes so they can best learn the techniques that interest them. To this end, it's often convenient to think of chords as triads which will be easier to see and manipulate than 4-note or 5-note chords. There is even a course of thought that allows us to use "triadic thinking" to work with complicated 4 and 5 note chords / harmonies.

    For example, a maj7th chord can be thought of as the combination of the major triad root and a minor triad of the chord's 3rd. So Cmaj7 = Cmaj (C E G) plus Emin (E G B)

    A minor 7th chord can be thought of as the combination of the minot triad root and a major triad of the chord's 3rd (flat 3rd). So Cmin7 = Cmin (C Eb G) plus Eb major (Eb G Bb)

    etc, etc. This course of thought facilitates understanding how harmony works in modern music as well as chord substitutions, voicings, inversions, etc.

    cheers, Jed

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Jed is right guitar inversion is just like inversions on a keyboard. I would like to say thank to Jed for the above suggestion.

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