I play mostly inverted chords. I find it much easier, as it allows me to stay centered around middle C. I can feel my way around, and don't have to look at the keys.

Is this normal? Do most people play root chords?

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    Most common is likely to mix root and inverted chords in order to get a good voice leading. Real answers are likely to come, but check the Wikipedia link for now. – Meaningful Username Mar 22 '15 at 21:01

I want set your vocabulary straight before answering your question. An inversion is a very specific idea in music where the lowest note of a chord (the bass note) affects the function of the chord. A voicing is a specific ordering of notes. These ideas are grouped together a lot and sometimes are interchangeable, but this distinction will be important to my answer and the example accompanying it.

In general in music when voicing a chord whether it be on piano or any other instrument it's good practice to try and minimize the movement of notes and take advantage of common tones to make the transition between chords much smoother. Doing this takes advantage of good voice leading and not only sounds smoother, but also typically makes it easier to play like you stated in your post. If you only played chords in root position this would not be the case. Here is a typical example using only the primary chords in the key of C.

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As you can see there are many different voicing of the same few chords. In this example, only one of the chords (C6/4) is inverted as the bass note defines the inversion. The voicing in the right hand though are based on typical inversions of those chords and as you can see the chords don't typically move more then the next note over.

One thing that should be noted is that not all voicings sound the same. If you are playing a piece it is very possible for it to be necessary to play a specific voicing to get the exact sound you want.

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  • I would add that while minimizing voice movement is common, sometimes there is a desire to deliberately exagerrate voice movement or have the voicing create or be compatible with a melody line (cf. Van Halen "Jump" synth part). Different voicings can also be motivated by the layout of notes on the instrument (guitar or harmonica being good examples) or to clear up room for other instruments or voice in ensemble playing. – Todd Wilcox Mar 23 '15 at 14:14
  • I think you're defining this too narrowly. If you were asked to identify the first chord in the treble clef, the correct answer would be first inversion C Major. Functional analysis isn't the only way to interpret it. From the sound of it OP is focused on the shapes. – user28 Mar 23 '15 at 20:14

It completely depends on your style of music. In rock-and-roll, inverted chords are rare. The same goes for country music, blues, folk, and rockabilly. Of course, this is not a strict rule by any means.

In jazz, it depends what role you're playing. If you're comping in jazz, with a bassist covering the low notes, often players stick to root chords (despite playing complex chords with plenty of ornamental notes). This too is certainly not a rule at all. On the other hand, if you're playing solo chord melodies, you'll be inverting chords very often.

The golden rule, "if it sounds good, play it," resurfaces here. I believe the more chords you can play the better, so you have more to choose from when finding the best sound.

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  • I just re-read your question - I thought you were talking about the guitar. Is that the case? Thanks! – Mark Mar 23 '15 at 13:48
  • Keys are mentioned, I assumed piano. – Meaningful Username Mar 23 '15 at 13:50
  • On guitar very few chords are straight triads starting on the root. Novices play inversions because the easy fingerings are often inversions. Experts play inversions because they sound good. – slim Mar 23 '15 at 15:44
  • @Mark I am sure OP meant piano (keyboard) based on reference to middle C. Also based on the piano tag with no guitar tag. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 23 '15 at 16:32
  • @RockinCowboy I think the editor added the piano tag - it wasn't there at first. But I guess I should probably remove this answer... :) – Mark Mar 23 '15 at 19:37

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