I'm studying chord inversions and have bumped into naming problems. As an example I'll be using the C# minor (tri)chord and its pitch classes ordered in a list like [1, 4, 8], where a lower index denotes a lower note. In other words, the first pitch class in the list is the bass note; in this case it's the 1.

As far as I can see from literature this is how we call the inversions:

pitch class list            | name
[1, 4, 8]                   | root position
[4, 8, 1]                   | first inversion
[8, 1, 4]                   | second inversion

However, I'm unsure of the naming of the following:

pitch class list            | name
[1, 8, 4]                   | root position?
[4, 1, 8]                   | first inversion?
[8, 4, 1]                   | second inversion?

These last three pitch class lists share the same bass notes as the first three lists above, but the non-bass tones are reversed. If they share the same inversion names, as suggested in Correct terminology for chord inversions, what are they called? Does e.g. [8, 4, 1] then have a name like "second inversion with first voicing inversion"?

  • Have a look at 'drop chords'. Inversions only take note (!) of the lowest note .
    – Tim
    Jul 5, 2017 at 14:18
  • I might be wrong but I don't think your numbering system for the notes is correct. I would number a major triad as 1, 3, 5 and a first inversion of a major triad as 3, 5, 8 (with 8 being 1 - an octave higher). A minor triad in first position would be 1, 3b, 5 by my way of thinking. Please clarify. Jul 5, 2017 at 18:00
  • Be aware that you're trying to shoe-horn one system into another, and it doesn't work that way. In Set Theory, which is what you're using, inversions are handled very differently (and have a different definition) than triadic or functional harmony. In Set Theory, the actual notes don't matter; only the space (intervals) between them. Jul 6, 2017 at 11:03

1 Answer 1


I suspect your numbering system is referring to the number of semitones between each note?

C# 1 - D 2 - D# 3 - E 4 - F 5 - F# 6 - G 7 - G# 8

Rockin Cowboy is right. When describing chord inversions, you typically refer to each note by their interval relative to the root note. For the C# minor triad (C# E G#) in root position it can be described as [1, 3, 5] (the root, a 3rd from the root and a 5th from the root). eg:

C#m chord closed

This is called a closed root position chord.

Tim is right as well. Inversions simply take note of the lowest note. In your last three examples I suspect you are trying to refer to inversions where the higher notes are more than an octave apart from the lowest note? eg:

C#m chord open

This is an example of an open root position chord. It still has the same notes as the above closed inversion but the third of the chord is raised an octave. It still has the same inversion name since the lowest notes are the same, but it is referred to as an open inversion. This is the correct terminology to differentiate these inversions.


Your Answer

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

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.