I know that if you want to go from one chord to another, using an inverted chord might make the bassline smoother and more melodic without big jumps but are there other reasons why root position chords are note preferred?

Perhaps how they contrast with the notes in the melody? I am attaching an example of a song which has some inverted chords. There are examples where the chord inversions make sense to me like the Em/G to F#7 and then the F#7/A# to the Bm chord but before that there is a G/B and A/C# and they seem a bit random.

Is this perhaps the sound of the interval between the melody and the bass note that perhaps took preference when composing this song? For example, if I play the G and A in root position they don't sound that good to my ears against the melody. Can someone please give me some tips or idea about why chord inversions might be preferred over the root position chords as in this example?

enter image description here

  • 2
    Inversions have the effect of softening the texture of the chord, while giving vocal independence to the bass. Feb 19, 2021 at 11:13

7 Answers 7


The point you made about the bassline being smoother is a valid point, but you have to take into consideration the tensions and releases of the melody with the bass line.

In your example:

enter image description here

  • here we can see that the bass line forms a perfect fifth and then a minor third with the melody, something that wouldn't happen if the chords were in root position.

enter image description here

  • There are quite a few tensions here as you can see. What starts off as a nice sounding G on the bass with an E on the melody, goes on as G with an D# and then F# (melody), which is a pretty strong dissonance, but when the bass goes to F# as well, the dissonance is resolved. The same thing happens with the next notes as well, where you have a F# on the bass with an E on the melody (creating tension) which resolves to A# with C#, a minor third, that releases the tension.

enter image description here

  • Here is a less dissonant tension, between a fourth that resolves to third (first two beats) and vice versa (last two beats).

It's quite common for composers to use inverted chords in order to create these kind of stuff.

Can someone please give me some tips or idea about why chord inversions might be preferred over the root position chords as in this example?

This is pretty objective, honestly. When composing a song or piece, just see what works for you. Play the chords in root position and see how they sound with the melody. Try inverting some of them to make a smoother bass line or to create tension between the bass line and the melody. Or, it's not uncommon to play the chords in root position a few times and then invert them; keeping things spicy for the ear of the listener.

Also, @Andrew Chin's comment is spot on. Another way of using inverted chords is that of changing the bass line so as to keep the same chords, but have an independent bass line. This is an interesting thing to experiment with when you have the same chords (or similar ones) playing in a piece over a long period of time.

  • 1
    When you said "the bass line forms a perfect fifth and then a minor third with the melody". In root position you would get a major 7th and then a perfect fifth. Why is one better than the other? I agree it does sound bettter but why?
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:00
  • By the way, I really like that D#... that is the m2 degree of the D major scale.... interesting. Is that maybe to give it that arabic vibe so it sounds middle eastern? This is Disneys Aladdins "A whole new world" by the way and I definitely hear that double harmonic arabian scale there.
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:21
  • @armani I wouldn't say that one of them sounds better than the other. It really depends on what the composer wants to do on that bar. But, I gotta say, using a 5th and then a 3rd, sounds more consonant than a maj7th. As far as the D# is used there, I'm guessing the composer is using it as a leading tone to E (that the melody resolves to after the F#) Feb 19, 2021 at 19:23
  • When you said "The same thing happens with the next notes as well, where you have a F# on the bass with an E on the melody (creating tension) which resolves to A# with C#, a minor third, that releases the tension." Had the bass note remained F# that C# would create a perfect 5th against the bass so in that case is it fair to say that switching the bass note there is just to move the bass in a smoother manner to the Bm chord?
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:26
  • @armani F# and C# are consonant, so it would sound good as well. If you see the bass line in that specific point, you'll see that it is an A# that goes to a B, and that would be the leading tone going to the tonic. So yes, it is quite smooth this way. Feb 19, 2021 at 19:34

I think there are two main ways to look at this: historically and acoustically.

In western music history harmony was first conceived as counterpoint which is multiple voices moving in different directions. The compositional procedure of moving voices contrapuntally is called voice leading. The theory of chords we have today is the result of centuries of music theory development from the Middle Ages to around the 19th century. From this historical perspective you can say chords, and especially chord inversions, are the result of contrapuntal voice leading. This views chords, which are vertical conceptions, as an after effect of melodic movement, which is a horizontal conception. In other words you get chord inversions as a result of moving the bass by melodic step-wise motion. A composer might "choose" chord inversions simply because they want to move the bass melodically.

You can also think of it in acoustical terms. Background information for this is the overtone series and the chord of nature. The basic idea is intervals can be viewed on a spectrum of relative consonance and stability which results in a major triad in root position as the most stable harmonic structure. From that view inverted chords are relatively dissonant and unstable. The ebb and flow of unstable to stable, or dissonant to consonant, sound is a principle device providing the forward impetus and expression to music. From this perspective a composer uses inverted chords because their instability provides forward drive and expressive power.

But a third thing really needs to be mentioned: composers work with common patterns within harmonic styles. The two theoretical point I made above may underlie how chord inversions evolved and work acoustically, but may not be giving a lot of thought to those things when writing. If someone writes a passage like I V6/4 I6 there isn't necessarily a lot of thought about the inversions, it's just a conventional movement. The compositional concern might be with things like the placement of that progression within the structure of phrase or its thematic treatment with rhythm. So a composer may be using certain inversions simply because they are the conventional harmonic material within certain styles or genres.


Another reason, similar to those in the other answers, is that first inversion chords do not sound quite as stable as root position. Sometimes, one has the chord progression of a cadence (V-I or V7-I or V-i or V7-i, etc.) in the middle of a piece. If the tonic and/or the dominant occur in an inversion, the cadence doesn't sound so final. Then when greater finality is wanted, the root-root positions can be used. The harmonies are the same but the cadential feel is diluted.

The main reason as noted in other answers is to allow the bass to be quasi-independent of the melody (but still supportive.) Generally, in most genres, one likes the bass and melody to make good two-part counterpoint. As an extreme negative example, try playing the melody as a bass line.

  • When you say: "Generally, in most genres, one likes the bass and melody to make good two-part counterpoint" What would be considered good? how can I learn more about that? Is two-part counterpoint the section of music theory that teaches that?
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 18:55
  • There are some other good answers here. Also, you can google "two-part counterpoint" as that is the most important for just melody vs bass. (Since the Baroque, the bass+melody has been an important construct.)
    – ttw
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:00

Melodies came first. Then basslines and inner parts. Then some musicians started categorising certain useful vertical combinations of notes as named 'chords'.

Some of today's musicians tend to start with the chords. Melody, bassline and inner voices are secondary. Well, OK, but it's very limiting.

G/B and A/C♯ on 'splendid' are about B and C♯ in the bass going well with F♯ and E in the melody. The fact that it can be described by triad-based chord names is secondary.

  • why do you say B and F# would be better than G and F#? Is a M7 too dissonant? Also, it is interesting because wouldn't it make more sense to write songs like this with bass and melody first before the chords? I mean most people use chords to write songs and then the bassline plays the root and 5th of the chords and I admit that in my own music I have done things this way but going into depth between the bass note and melody relationships it is like a "whole new world" because you listen to the intervals between the bass and melody in more detail and the relationship seems important
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:18
  • Not better. Just an artistic choice. 'Most people'? Well, most people in the guitar-based singer/songwriter world perhaps. There are other sorts of music.:-)
    – Laurence
    Feb 19, 2021 at 23:25

This answer is really just a supplement to the others, which have pointed out the main reason: that we want a bass line that's melodic and makes nice counterpoint.

Sometimes it's simply the sonority that the composer is going for. As an example, if you hear a first-inversion half-diminished chord, played on a church organ, then you're probably at a wedding, hearing the Mendelssohn wedding march.

Sometimes the construction of the bass line is not meant to be particularly melodic or contrapuntal, but you want it to be propulsive or not monotonous.

For example, there's quite a bit of music where the chord progression is simply V-I repeated over and over, and if we didn't use inversions, the bass line would be super monotonous, just an endless oom-pah.

For propulsion, we have examples like the Duke Ellington tune "Don't get around much anymore," where there's a line in the bass that (in C) goes like C D D# E. Or there's the cliche that goes like Am Am/G# Am/G Am/F#, which gives you some sense of motion instead of just a static a minor triad. I don't think either of these examples is particularly melodic or contrapuntal -- they're just nondescript scale fragments.


Investigate a concept called "voice leading" to understand one reason why this is useful from a music-theory perspective. A major side-benefit is that most songs become a -lot- easier to play on stringed instruments.

  • You mean piano or guitar? Aren't triad shapes just as easy to play in root position as inverted on the piano or do you simply mean the transitions between chord shapes? By the way, I definitely agree that inverted chord shapes are harder on the guitar.
    – user35708
    Feb 19, 2021 at 19:14
  • Yes, of course I should have said stringed instruments. Feb 23, 2021 at 13:49
  • Inversions are not intrinsically harder to play on guitar, it depends on the context and where you are on the neck. In many cases, playing an inversion in a given position would be far easier than playing the root-3-5 shape. See online.berklee.edu/takenote/… Feb 23, 2021 at 13:55
  • if you are just talking about fingering the chords then yes it is easy enough but when you play the guitar part of the challenge is how you mute the other strings while playing those strings which is why in my 20 years of playing the instrument I have come across inversions far less than when playing piano where inversions are about as common as root position chords
    – user35708
    Feb 23, 2021 at 15:39

There's many reasons, beyond the ones already answered.

  1. avoiding muddying of the melody by the bass. E.g. when the 5th of a bass chord is too close to the melody
  2. variation: you can repeat a progression many, many times if you bring some variation into the harmony with inversions. It's an easy, effective trick: you know it will sound well and fitting, yet it will sound different.
  3. continuing an ascent or a descent in a progression, e.g. you're going from a G to an F chord, but you want it to "feel" as if it's ascending, instead of descending; instead of going from GBD to FAC you could go to ACF. It will fit, but it will feel lifted.
  4. You want larger steps: going with closed chords can feel "tight", by using inversions it will literally open up the chords especially when arpeggiated.
  5. steadiness/ambiguity: e.g. going from ACF to DFA all in the same octave gives a different, more ambiguous tension than going from FCA with root in one octave to DFA with a root in the next octave.
  6. depending on the instrument: easier fingering

I'm sure there's plenty more.

  • What is the 5th of a bass chord? In most music I listen to, the bass plays a bass "line" not a bass "chord".
    – user35708
    Feb 24, 2021 at 8:36
  • ah english isn't my native language and I notice it presents problems when talking about music theory. How would you call a harmonic chord in the bass staff? @armani
    – Creynders
    Feb 24, 2021 at 11:49
  • (And BTW, the example you posted HAS chords in the bass, they're just opened and arpeggiated, e.g. M1 is a D major: D F# A (with an E as a passing tone) @armani)
    – Creynders
    Feb 24, 2021 at 12:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.