I'm having trouble interpreting this chord progression. For example, the three different iv chords shown: does the bass note not affect the right hand? I can see that they are only using "A-E-C", so basically what I'm asking is does it matter how and why, or does it only matter that for a iv chord that my bass note is "A", and I can use any combination of "E" and "C" to make as many versions of the iv chord as I can?

For example, it seems like the first iv chord is in its first inversion, but the usually with first inversion the bottom note goes on top. But instead putting it on top they just put it to just an "E", which happens to be in the middle? Basically why does the first iv chord make sense? Shouldn't the "E" be on top? Or is this just the 3rd inversion of the iv chord?

3 variations on the i-iv-V7-i progression in E minor

The content shown is not mine and it was provided for free from guitar center when I bought this keyboard machine. Here is the link to the site https://www.emediamusic.com/keyboard-piano-lessons/beginner-piano-method.html.


4 Answers 4


Inversions are determined by the bass note of the chord. The chord third in the bass is a first inversion, chord fifth, second inversion, chord seventh third inversion, etc.

Sometimes the top harmony note will be mentioned but that harmonically doesn't make much difference. (It may make a big difference in playing though and in the sound.)

Inversions are primarily used to create "smooth" or "more interesting" bass lines. (One can have non-chord tones in the bass, too.)

In the examples given, all the chords are in root position. There upper note (which is usually related to the melody if not part of that melody.)

Chords usually have two positions: in "close" position, the top three notes are as close as possible (no chord tone in between). The second-lowest note may have a larger gap with the bass. In "open" position, each of the top three notes skips over a chord tone. (I can't easily post a staff; I'm working on an easy way). Both of these may be used in the same phrase. In the examples, the chord notes are moved upward from the bass but are still in close position.

  • 2
    I thought an 'open' or 'open position' chord was any set of notes that left gaps, like AEC, or bigger gaps (not just skipping a single chord tone). Looked it up, and - surprise - loads of references to open chords on guitar which use open strings! Confusing!
    – Tim
    Apr 13, 2021 at 6:02
  • Many terms are confusing as they were nonce uses that stuck among a group of users. Good example from computer standards: some years ago people wanted to name for some language (Real-Time Fortran I think but it could have been Real-Time Algol or whatever) and they needed some synchronization marks; these was a long word and its translates into other languages were hard to pronounce in some cases. They decided to say "bone marks" because everyone could say "bone" (or "bon") and it was short and could be changed in the revision. Never revised, bone marks became the standardized ter,
    – ttw
    Apr 13, 2021 at 15:04

Any chord remains the same chord regardless the order or position of its notes. So A-C-E is always A minor -- and thus the iv chord in this context -- no matter what pitch is on the bottom, middle, or top. As long as the only pitches involved are A-C-E, it's A minor.

The inversion of the chord is determined by the lowest pitch. In the case of A minor, A being on the bottom is root position, C on the bottom is first inversion, and E being on the bottom is second inversion. Thus, all of the iv chords indicated are A minor in root position -- the A always being the lowest pitch.

When analyzing a chord, all parts -- here, both right and left hand -- must be considered. Were we to ignore the left hand and consider only the right hand, then the chord inversion changes. The right hand plays the chord in various configurations: second inversion, root position, and first inversion, respectively. However, because the left-hand note is A in every case, they are each considered root position.


You seem to have a misconception of chord inversion.

The term inversion refers to the bass note and as the bass tone is always A all iv chords are in root position, that is: every chord here is in root position Em,Am,B7,A because the bass tone is the root note of all chords.

If you look at the r.h. only, the triads are "inverted" but we don't speak about inversion. The triad is defined by the highest tone, the soprano note and we speak about the position of the soprano tone: 8-,3-,5-position.

But instead putting it on top they just put it to just an "E", which happens to be in the middle? Basically why does the first iv chord make sense? Shouldn't the "E" be on top?

If you play with the right hand the chords in root position (which makes sense for a beginner to learn and understand the triads) we have a very unmusical accompaniment and there are parallels of fifths (which are forbidden in traditional western music theory).

So the rule for a good voicing is to keep the common tones of succeeding chords in the same voice. You can control this practice by writing down the chord names and the triads by writing a tie connecting the common notes of 2 chords.

You will also discover that between iv and V there is no common chords and the r.h. is lead in contrary movement to the bass line, when the latter progresses stepwise.

My advice is to practice this cadence i-iv-V7-i playing all chords

a) r.h. in root position (1,3,5)

b) r.h. as written

c) r.h. in all inversions - to use your words ;) no, r.h. in all 3 positions:

e.g. Em: play 1,3,5 then 3,5,8 and finally 5,1,3 (5,8,3) and notate the chord-progression i-iv-V-i by keeping the common tones of 2 chords in the same voice.


Because the bass notes are always the same, technically each chord is in the same inversion. However, the right hand in this case can really be thought of as practicing the chords in all inversions.

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