5

As far as I know, inverted chord can be used to create bass line. I am wondering about the other uses of it.
Does it have anything to do with the melody in term of harmony and sound effects?
Should we invert a chord to fit the melody, use them for their sound?
Let say a song in the key of C has the melody in the fifth bar start with E and the chord is C major, should we use C/E?
I would like to know what are the other functions of them and what kinds of theory should I look up to plow ahead?

  • 4
    Dear TriNguyen, there are so many questions in just one post! Maybe you should think of breaking all those questions into many posts. This will maximise your chances to get effective answers. – avi.elkharrat Jul 30 '18 at 9:29
  • 1
    Tri - you do have some very good answers here, but your post is still way too broad. Please try to focus on one question. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 31 '18 at 15:55
  • "Let say a song in the key of C has the melody in the fifth bar start with E and the chord is C major, should we use C/E?" This specific question has a simple answer: no, you should avoid using an inversion that doubles a prominent melodic third scale degree in the bass. – Robert Fink Aug 1 '18 at 3:59
  • Thank you guys, I've excluded the second part of the question, definitely gonna take notice in the next questions. – TriNguyen Aug 1 '18 at 9:06
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I think you have outlined two of the uses of inversions in your questions already.

  1. To add a bass line to the chords that are not just all roots.
  2. To put the melody note "up on top" so it is the highest note sounded even when it is not the highest note in the chord. (e.g. An E note in the melody over a C major triad)

There is one more reason I would like to add which is

  1. To make it easier to switch between chords. If you were just playing all root position barre chords you will need to move a lot up and down the neck. If you can play the same chord in many voicings it will allow you to use the inversion (or voicing) that is closest on the neck to what you are playing before and after it.
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A use for chord inversions that has not been mentioned yet is when playing with other musicians. If you get a couple of musicians playing together in the same range it can sound boring. But if one can play down low while the other plays up high, it can sound really nice. Being able to make the same chord in many places up and down the neck in different fingerings makes it possible for you to play in a range where nobody else is playing. These different fingerings necessarily involve inversions.

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    Yes, but note that if the guitar is playing e.g. e g c' and the bass adds a C underneath, then this is not an inverted chord, although the guitar part by itself is. – leftaroundabout Aug 8 '18 at 22:52
  • I wasn't really thinking about the bass, but you are correct. I was more thinking about two guitars playing together, or a guitar with a banjo, etc. – Wayne Conrad Aug 9 '18 at 0:11
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It's a big question that ought to be split into 3 or 4 separates.

It's certainly worth learning some if not all voicings. Knowing full 6 string chord shapes - as in basic CAGE(D)system chords, will be a good start point. Having CAGE shapes under your fingers will mean you can choose many different voicings just from each of those shapes. There isn't a necessity to play all 6 strings - especially fingerstyle - so using 3 notes from a shape gives plenty of options.

Playing a 1, 3, and 5 will give a simple triad so holding down a 6 string shape gives plenty of options, along with a bonus of other strings sympathetically vibrating along. Often 5 is omitted.

Bear in mind there are few closed chords. 1,3,5. 3,5,1. 5,3,1.Even chords with more than 3 notes fall into this: all notes within an octave of each other. But many open voice chords, where a note may be removed from one octave, and put into another.

So, finding little 3 and 4 string clusters of notes is a good exercise that'll keep you going for years. And strings don't have to be consecutive.

One other point - I wouldn't be trying to play a melody note at the bottom of a chord. Another note usually sounds better.

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Inversions also help to create motion in the music, as they add instability to the chord. A chord in root position is very solid, but the other inversions create hints of dissonance, to different degrees, that want to be resolved, which pushes the music forward to that resolution.

In the context of E minor, for example, a C major chord in 1st inversion can sound a little dissonant and unstable because the ear can hear the C wanting to pull back down to the B to make a root position E minor chord.

Chords in 2nd inversion are generally considered unstable because the P4 up from the bass to the root of the chord (whichever voice it is located in) wants to contract to a M3. This is why these chords are so often used in specific places, particularly in classical music. The notes over the bass are acting like quasi passing tones or suspensions. In other words, they are creating musical tension.

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You ask many questions in one post, so I will try to re-word them:

  1. What are the uses of chord inversions?
  2. Shall I learn all chord inversions?
  3. Is it OK to find my own voicings?

And shall try to answer these, now:

  1. You are perfectly right: chord inversions are used to blend chords, melodies and bass lines. But it is really about possibilities. Think in terms of all the emotions you can create with chord inversions. If you're not there yet, don't worry, you will with dedicated work!

  2. You absolutely need methodology in your learning. You shall not try to grasp everything there is to know about chord inversions at once, because
    a. this subject is huge.
    b. you'll get tired of it!
    Maybe you can try to set-up some kind of daily routine, where chord inversions will have its place among other things.

  3. Finding your own chord inversions, your own chord voicing... is not only OK, it's what it's all about! you should do it!
    This is how you'll get to discover your own style!
    Mixing self discoveries with progressive, methodic knowledge acquisition of chords is the best way to get you where you want to musically.

I hope this will help you, and don't forget to practice daily.

  • @Wayne Conrad THX for your edits dude :) – avi.elkharrat Aug 9 '18 at 11:01
  • You are most welcome. I like this answer. – Wayne Conrad Aug 9 '18 at 12:49
  • Thx, I like your's too. I really love your biography!!! I got your point soooo bad! – avi.elkharrat Aug 9 '18 at 14:13
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Inverted chords are truly different as they contain different intervals. They are very much worth learning regardless of the style of playing or the instrument. However, the urgency of learning them is dependent on your goals and what you plan to do. If you are a good sight reader and play classical I'd say memorizing all the inversions may not be necessary or helpful since your sheet music will indicate what to play, and likely how to finger it. If you plan on improvising and comping, and composing, on the guitar the inversions are very necessary to ensure you can easily create smooth harmony with good voice leading. There is a great wealth of musical variety in the chord inversions. I would also learn the different voicings of each inversion. What I mean by that is the inversion indicates which note is in the bass but there are multiple ways to stack the other notes. For a major triad one has,

(1, 3, 5)

(1, 5, 3) (Not typical)

(3, 5, 1)

(3, 1, 5) (Not typical)

(5, 1, 3)

(5, 3, 1) (Not typical)

Try them all and see how they sound. A good reference for chord scales which presents this information is Chord Melody Playing System by Mal Bay (I get no kickback for advertising, I've worked through 100's of books and like this one as an introduction).

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