Guitar chord inversions allow you to create different voicings for a given chord. These voicings can add a little flavor and variety to the typical chord sound. They also can be a bit easier to play and add some versatility to your playing. In this lesson we’ll take a look at what chord inversions are and how to identify them on the guitar fretboard.
What are guitar chord inversions?
While the concept of a chord inversion may sound complicated, it’s actually quite simple.
Guitar chord inversions are what the name implies…chords that are inverted. What this means is that the arrangement of stacked notes is changed so the root note is no longer in the bass (lowest note) position. Before we get into the details of inversions, let’s first do a little review of chord construction.
Chords are built on triads, or three notes stacked in thirds. These triads are formed of the root, 3rd, and 5th intervals. As an example, let’s look at the G major chord, which consists of the notes G – B – D.
The B is a 3rd from the G note and the D is a 3rd away from the B. This example is of a major chord, but the formula remains the same for minor chords as well. However, minor chords will contain a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd.
To learn more about building chords, check out the following lessons:
Chords are in the root position when the root note of the chord is in the bass, or lowest, position. In terms of the G major chord above, the root position is when the G note is in the bass position. So the root position of the G major chord would be: G – B – D.
The order of the other notes doesn’t matter. It can be arranged R-3-5, R-5-3 etc. The only thing that matters is the note in the bass position as this is what determines the inversion.
This is universal to all chords, whether it’s G major, A minor chord inversions or any other.
The examples shown here are for major chords, but the same concept applies to minor chords as well. Examples of minor chords are shown in the common inversion patterns section down below.
The root position places the root note in the bass position, or the lowest position.
Keeping with the G major example, the note stack for the chord would be: G – B – D
The first chord inversion places the 3rd in the bass position, creating a 3-5-1 stack. While it remains the same chord, this voicing gives it a bit different sound.
The note stack for the first inversion of the G major chord would be: B – D – G
The second inversion puts the 5th in the bass position, creating a 5-1-3 stack. Again, it’s the same chord with a different voicing and sound.
The note stack for the second inversion of the G major chord would be D – G – B
Common Guitar Chord Inversion Patterns
Below are common major and minor guitar chord inversion patterns for the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. These patterns are the same for any root note of the same chord quality (major/minor).
4th String – Major and Minor Chord Inversions
5th String – Major and Minor Chord Inversions
6th String – Major and Minor Chord Inversions
Additional Chord Inversions
The number of inversions for a chord is dependent on the number of notes in the chord. The more notes there are, the more possible inversions you have.
For example, a major 7th chord (maj7) will have the root position and three inversions.
This applies to 9, add9, sus2 chords etc. Again, the ordering of the notes outside of the bass position doesn’t matter.
Guitar chord inversions are just a rearranging of the notes of a chord such that a note aside from the root is in the bass (lowest) position. Chord inversions allow you to play different voicings and add variety and flavor to your playing. You can start utilizing them in your own playing by incorporating them into chord progressions you already know.
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