Chord Inversions for Voice Leading

Once familiar with the different types of chords, the next step in music theory is to learn the different possible chord inversions so that you can play chord progressions with smooth voice leading. This will result in a more musical sounding progression of chords.

Here are the different possible inversions:

If a chord has the name of the chord as the bottom note, it is in ROOT POSITION. So a C major triad in root position has the notes C, E, G in ascending order.

If a chord has second note up of the chord as the bottom note, it is in FIRST INVERSION. A C major triad in first inversion has the notes E, G, C in ascending order.

If a chord has the third note up of the chord as the bottom note, it is in SECOND POSITION. A C major triad in second inversion has the notes G, C, E in ascending order.

If the chord has four notes and the fourth note up is the bottom note, it is in THIRD POSITION. A C major seventh chord in third inversion has the notes B, C, E, G in ascending order.

So basically, how ever many notes are in the chord, that's how many possible inversions there are (not counting octave doubling).

Here's C major triad and C major7 in all it's possible inversions.

chord inversions

When learning this information it's helpful to note that a chord in the normal root position is NOT the first inversion.

So now that your know the different chord inversions, it's time to apply them when voice leading a chord progression. It is often considered more musical to not have chords jump long distances, but instead move smoothly to the closest inversion either in an ascending direction or descending direction. So if you are going from a root position C chord to a G chord, instead of them both in root positions, voice lead so the G chord is in the first inversion which results only 2 notes have to move downward (C,E to B,D). Likewise, you could go in an ascending direction and go to a second inversion G chord.

Here's an example to illustrate the difference: the chords of the verse in the classic tune, 'Can't Help Falling in Love' with every chord in root position:

Here the same chord progression with some better voice leading:

The voice lead version is a smoother, more sophisticated and pleasing to the ear.

Using chord inversions when voice leading chord progressions is great way to make music sound better!

You can review Triads and/or Seventh Chords

or go on to learn about the Circle of Fifths