Chord Inversions 1 – Intro

Remember back when your teacher, (possibly me), told you that the deepest pitch in a chord should be its root note? Yeah, that was a lie. Sorry.

            It’s a good general rule though, because we like to hear root notes in the bass of a chord. Using other notes in the bass can have a dramatic effect on a chord’s overall sound, and we refer to these chords as Inversions. THIS VIDEO at around the 28min mark gives a great example of how using inversions can sound like entirely “new chords, a kind of optical illusion in sound”, (don’t watch all the video, the rest isn’t that relevant… I just like that quote).
In this lesson we’re going to work with open chords, and simply add or subtract strings and see what that does to the chord. But first off we need to cover some theory basics. It’s easy enough to remember that Inversions are just an interesting was of voicing a chord. It’s a little trickier to remember the different names for each inversion, which depend on which Chord Tone is being put in the bass. They are as follows…

  • We refer to chords that use the root note in the bass as the Root Position.
  • Chords using the 3rd in the bass are referred to as being the First Inversion.
  • Using the 5th in the bass is known as the Second Inversion.
  • Using the 7th in the bass is called the Third Inversion, (we won’t be using 7ths today).

            Be aware that the precise order of the other notes really doesn’t matter, provided the entire triad is being used in there somewhere.
The most common, and certainly the easiest way of writing these is as Slash Chords. However, these give no obvious information as to which Chord Tone is being used, so you won’t necessarily know which Inversion it is right away, (unless you happen to know all the notes in all the chords… In which case, why are you here?) I’ll give you that information as well in this lesson.

Let’s play some music.

I’ll walk you through what happens to an open E chord when we remove strings, and the chart below will show what happens when we do the same to other chords.
Start by playing an open E Major chord. Nice. Now, we’re going to not play that low E string. Although we’re voicing the E Major triad, it happens that the lowest pitch isn’t the root note any more. The lowest pitch is now a B which, as you should know, is the 5th in this chord. So, this chord is the 2nd Inversion of E, (which can also be called an E/B chord). Removing the A string makes this chord an E again, because the note played on the D string is the root note, E. Removing this D string will put the G# into the bass, which is the Maj 3rd in this chord. That gives us the 1st Inversion of E.
In the chart below I’ve used this same process with the other common open chords.


            Chords can get similarly interesting when we add open strings that weren’t previously there. For instance, if you play an open A chord, but include the low E string you get an A/E chord, (2nd Inversion). Similarly, playing a D chord and including the open A string gives you D/A, (2nd Inversion).

            In the next Inversions lesson we’ll talk about some practical uses for what we’ve just covered. After that we’ll move onto the 3rd inversion, which involves 7 chords. For now try to get more comfortable with the theory you’ve just been introduced to, and play around with the chords in the chart above.

(THIS VIDEO is certainly worth a watch if you’d like to reinforce what you learn from my site today)


Memorizing The Fretboard

(I’ve stolen an image from for this. So there.)

These are some tips and tricks to help you memorize the fretboard. Memorizing the fretboard will help you to instinctively know where to go in order to voice different chords.

The first step is to remember the order of the open strings, which is as follows, (from deepest pitch to highest), E A D g b e. Quite often the thinnest three strings, (the ones which aren’t coiled), are written as lower-case letters. This helps to avoid confusion, being as there are two strings pitched to E.

Secondly, you need to remember that any note on the 12th fret is the same as it’s open string, only an octave higher.

The next sensible thing to do is to learn the notes on the deeper E string. Start by learning the notes on the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets, which are shown below. I have yet to see a guitar that doesn’t mark these frets on the freeboard or at least on the side of the neck. Be aware that a few guitars mark the first fret as well, mostly for aesthetics, so the 3rd fret is not always the first inlay on your guitar neck.


The fourth step is remembering that the 1st fret on the E string is an F, the 8th fret is a C, and the 10th fret is a D. It is about this point that you will also need to learn that there are no Cb, B#, Fb or E# notes. If you are playing an E, (open E string), and sharpen the note by a half step, you will be playing F. Similarly, if you sharpen a B by a half step you will be playing C. In reverse, flattening a C will give you a B, and flattening a F will give you an E.

The next step is to memorize the highlighted notes on the A string, which are as follows. Also, remember that the 2nd fret on the A string is a B note.


Once you have these down, you’ve certainly done the majority of the work. Learning the notes on the D and G strings is comparatively very easy. All you need to know now, is that if you play a note on the E or A strings, you can play that note’s octave, by skipping a string and playing 2 frets above. For instance, the following pairs are the same notes, but an octave apart:


A similar rule is true when your first note is played on the G or D string. You need to take account of the tuning discrepancy for the B string. You’ll need to skip a string, but then play three frets higher, like this:


Once you have these seven steps down, it’s only a case of filling in the gaps, which is usually as simple as placing a b or # symbol next to the adjacent note. And there you have it, fretboard memorized.