Chord inversions

This article explores chord inversions, and shows how Fretspace can be used to create an organized set of four-note chord charts in just a few simple steps, starting from a single (well-known) chord shape:
D7

According to music theory, a chord in which the lowest note is the root note is known as a root-position chord, while a chord that starts with a different note is known as an inversion. Chords that start with the second note of a chord formula are known as first-inversion chords: the note formula for a C Major chord is C E G, so the second note is E. Chords that start with the third note (e.g. G in a C Major chord) are second-inversion chords, and chords that start with the fourth note (e.g. Bb in a C7 chord) are third-inversion chords.

The chords shown below are a root-position C Major chord (C), a first-inversion C Major chord (C/E), and a second-inversion C Major chord (C/G). A common way to indicate the bass note of a chord is to write it after a slash: C/E is read as “C over E” (or “C with E in the bass”) and C/G is “C over G”.

CC/EC/G

Each of these chords has a slightly different sound. Root-position chords are more stable than first-inversion chords (they don’t sound as if they need to go anywhere) and first-inversion chords are more stable than second-inversion chords. Second-inversion chords are sometimes used to transition to dominant chords, so C/G might be followed by a G chord.

You can create chord inversions by moving the notes of a chord along the fretboard so that each note is replaced by the next chord note. If we replace each note in a C triad (C-E-G) with the next chord note, we will arrive at a first inversion (E-G-C), and if we do that a second time we will have a second inversion (G-C-E). You can work this out in your head or on a piece of paper—or you can use Fretspace to do it more easily. Take the first C chord shown above and remove the dots on the two top strings, so it is a simple three-note triad:

Duplicate this chord (⌘D) and click on the Invert Up tool:

invertup

Fretspace will invert the duplicated chord, so that you now have a root-position chord followed by a first-inversion chord (C and C/E). Duplicate the first-inversion chord and click on Invert Up a second time. You now have three chords: a root-position chord, first inversion and second inversion:

cegC/Egce

You can also use Fretspace to find inversions of C that are in the same area of the fretboard. Take the first shape shown above, and duplicate on a new line: click at the end of the line and press Return to start a new line, then drag the shape while holding down the Option key (to duplicate it) and drop the duplicate on the next line. Now, while the duplicate shape is selected, duplicate it a second time by pressing ⌘D and click on the Next Alternate Voicing tool in the toolbar or choose Next Alternative Voicing (shortcut: ⌘U) from the Box menu.

Alternate Voicing tool

Continue this process using shortcuts: press ⌘D to duplicate followed by ⌘U to change the duplicated shape to the next alternate voicing until you have the following sequence of shapes:

cegC/GC/GC/EC/EC/G

These are six different ways that you can play three-note C chords in open position (at the start of the fretboard). Two of these shapes are what are known as open voicings (the notes are out of sequence, and there are unplayed strings between the fretted notes). The other shapes are closed voicings, where the notes follow each other in their original sequence: C E G, E G C, and G C E.

I’ve used three-note chords in these examples because they are a good way of illustrating how chord inversions work—but there are situations in which three-note chords are actually pretty useful! If you are a lead guitarist, you can make your lead parts more interesting by incorporating chords and arpeggios in your lead lines.

Here are some useful shapes. Take the first three-note C shape shown above and copy it onto a new line (⌘C to copy, click on the last shape in the line and press Return, then ⌘V to paste). Now use the Shift Dots Right and Move Dots Down tools to convert this into a G shape (click once on Shift Dots Right and twice on Move Dots Down). Duplicate and invert this shape twice (⌘D ⌘I twice) and you have the following shapes:

GG/BG/D

Because there are no open (unfretted) notes in these shapes, you can use them anywhere on the fretboard to play major triads from any root: move them two frets along and you have A triads, and so on.

It’s also worth learning the equivalent forms of these shapes on the top three strings. While the last shape is selected, press Return to start a new line, then press ⇧← (Shift-Left-arrow) three times to select the previous three shapes along with the Return character. Copy (⌘C) and paste (⌘V) the selected shapes onto a new line and click on Shift Dots Right to move the dots onto the next three strings.

CC/EC/G

You might also want to learn the equivalent minor triads.

Four-note chords (top strings)

Four-note chords are useful for playing chordal melodies, and can also be used to add variety to rhythm parts. Instead of limiting yourself to a few chord shapes, you can use a variety of four-note shapes to play chords in different inversions across the fretboard.

The chord picker in Fretspace can show you all the possible ways of playing four-note chord shapes: choose 4-Note (4-3-2-1) in the Strings popup (and Any Inversion rather than Root Position) to see how you can play four-note chords on the top four strings. However, a more useful and educational way to build a chord vocabulary is to start with a single chord shape and see how it can be moved and inverted to create other shapes and inversions.

Dominant sevenths

Let’s start with a standard D7 chord, and use this to generate four-note chords that can be played anywhere across the fretboard. Start a new chart, select Show Notes, and insert a standard D7 chord.

D7

Now duplicate this chord and invert it, and repeat this process three more times, so that you end up with the following shapes:

D7D7/F#D7/AD7/CD7

A quick way to do this is to use keyboard shortcuts: ⌘D to duplicate and ⌘I to invert.

If you’re not sure how to play these chords, you can select Show Fingering, and Fretspace will calculate an appropriate fingering:

D7 with fingeringD7/F# with fingeringD7/A with fingeringD7/C with fingeringD7 with fingering

Sometimes there are different ways of fingering a chord. You can use whatever fingering you prefer, and you can replace the fingerings that Fretspace displays with your own preferred fingering.

The first and last shapes in our line of D7 chords are essentially the same shape (the last shape is the first shape repeated an octave higher), but the first shape contains an open (unfretted) note. This makes it less useful as a general-purpose shape because it can’t be moved around the fretboard so easily. What you want to do is to learn the other four shapes. These are sometimes referred to as movable shapes because they can be moved to different positions on the fretboard to create chords for any root note. For example the second shape can be played as a G7 chord at the eighth fret:

G7/B

Delete the first shape, so that you have the following line of four movable shapes:

D7/F# with fingeringD7/A with fingeringD7/C with fingeringD7 with fingering

Major sevenths

Major seventh chords are similar to dominant sevenths, except that they contain a major seventh instead of a minor seventh.

  1. Select the first shape in the chart (D7/F#) and duplicate it (⌘D).
  2. Select the first shape again, and convert it into a major seventh chord by changing Minor Seventh to Major Seventh in the Notes section of the Inspector panel.
  3. Press Return so that the following four shapes are on a separate line.
  4. Select the first shape again, and duplicate/invert it (⌘D ⌘I) three times.

You now have a line of Dmaj7 shapes (followed by a line of D7 shapes):

Dmaj7/F#Dmaj7/ADmaj7/C#Dmaj7

Minor sevenths

Minor sevenths are similar to dominant sevenths, except that they contain a minor third instead of a major third.

  1. Select the first shape in the second line of shapes (D7/F#) and copy it (⌘C).
  2. Select the last shape and press Return to start a new line.
  3. Paste (⌘V) the shape you copied so that it is the first shape on a third line of shapes.
  4. Convert it into a minor seventh chord by changing Major Third to Minor Third in the Notes section of the Inspector panel.
  5. Duplicate/invert it (⌘D ⌘I) three times.

This gives us a line of Dm7 shapes:

Dm7/F Dm7/A Dm7/C Dm7

m7b5 chords

Another type of seventh chord is the m7b5 chord (also known as a half-diminished chord). This is a minor seventh in which the fifth has been replaced with a diminished (flattened) fifth.

  1. Select the first shape in the third line of shapes (Dm7/F) and copy it (⌘C).
  2. Select the last shape and press Return to start a new line.
  3. Paste (⌘V) the shape you copied.
  4. Convert it into an m7b5 chord by changing Fifth to Diminished Fifth in the Notes section of the Inspector panel.
  5. Duplicate/invert it (⌘D ⌘I) three times.

This gives us a line of m7b5 shapes:

Dm7b5/FDm7b5/AbDm7b5/CDm7b5

Diminished sevenths

The m7b5 chord is sometimes known as a half-diminished chord. This distinguishes it from the diminished seventh chord, which contains a diminished seventh in addition to a diminished fifth.

  1. Select the first shape in the last line of shapes (Dm7b5/F) and copy it (⌘C).
  2. Select the last shape and press Return to start a new line.
  3. Paste (⌘V) the shape you copied.
  4. Convert it into an diminished seventh chord by changing Minor Seventh to Diminished Seventh in the Notes section of the Inspector panel.

There isn’t any point in inverting this shape, but it’s worth trying! What you will find is that each inversion contains the same pattern of dots. This is because all the intervals in a diminished seventh chord are minor thirds, so each interval is the same as every other interval. This means that diminished sevenths are easy to learn, and you can delete any inversions that you just created—so the fifth line of the chart contains just one shape:

Ddim7/F

Naming the chart

You now have a chart that shows you how to play four-note seventh chords on the top four strings. It should have five lines, with four shapes on the first four lines and one shape on the last line: four maj7 shapes, four 7 shapes, four m7 shapes, four m7b5 shapes, and one dim7 shape.

One reason that it is helpful to arrange the chart in this way is because you can read it horizontally or vertically. If you read it horizontally, you can see the different inversions of each type of seventh chord. If you read it vertically, you can see how each inversion relates to the same inversion of a different type of seventh chord. Sometimes when you’re playing, you may want to move from one type of seventh chord to a different type of seventh chord.

The next thing that you should do is to give the chart a more useful name than “Chart 1”. Use the Name field in the Chart section of the Inspector panel to give it a descriptive name, such as “4-Note Chords (4-3-2-1)”.  Press Return to finish entering the name. Then turn on Show Title in the same section, so that the title is displayed at the top of the chart.

4-Note Chords (4-3-2-1)

Four-note chords (other strings)

We can use this chart to generate other charts that show how to play four-note chords on other strings—with just a few mouse clicks or keystrokes.

5-4-3-2 chords

Creating a 5-4-3-2 chart is easy:

  1. Select the 4-3-2-1 chart in the Charts panel on the left of the window, and choose Duplicate from the Edit menu (or press ⌘D).
  2. Rename the new chart as “4-Note Chords (5-4-3-2)”.
  3. Click on a box and choose Select All from the Edit menu (or press ⌘A)
  4. Click on the Shift Dots Left tool (or press ⌘←), and Fretspace will move all the chords so that they use the middle four strings.

It doesn’t matter that these are A chords rather than D chords because you can move them up and down the fretboard to create chords with any root note.

6-5-4-3 chords

Repeat this process with the chart you just created: duplicate it, rename it “4-Note Chords (6-5-4-3)”, click on a box, and press ⌘A followed by ⌘←.

6-4-3-2 chords

We can create a chart of 6-4-3-2 chords from the 4-3-2-1 chart that we created initially. The way that we do this is to take advantage of the fact that the top string of a guitar (in standard tuning) has the same note value as the bottom string. This means that you can move a note that is on the top string and play it at the same fret on the bottom string (and vice versa). Moving the top note of a 4-3-2-1 chord converts it into a 6-4-3-2 chord. Fretspace has a Swap Dots tool that does this for us.

  1. Select the 4-3-2-1 chart in the Charts panel.
  2. Drag it while holding the Option key to create a duplicate chart. Let go of the mouse button when you have dragged the duplicate chart to the bottom of the Charts panel.
  3. Rename the new chart “4-Note Chords (6-4-3-2)”.
  4. Click on a box and choose Select All from the Edit menu (or press ⌘A).
  5. Click on Swap Dots in the toolbar (or press ⌘/).

5-3-2-1 chords

We can create 5-3-2-1 chords by shifting the dots of 6-4-3-2 shapes.

  1. Select the 6-4-3-2 chart in the Charts panel and choose Duplicate from the Edit menu (or press ⌘D).
  2. Rename the new chart as “4-Note Chords (5-3-2-1)”.
  3. Click on a box and choose Select All (or press ⌘A).
  4. Click on the Shift Dots Right tool (or press ⌘→) to move all the chords onto the next set of strings.

Now save the document that contains these charts. You could name it “Guitar Chords” or “Four-Note Guitar Chords”. If you want to display fingerings, go back and turn on Show Fingering for each chart. You might also prefer to choose Show Degrees rather than Show Notes: these are movable chords, so the notes will change depending on where they are played.

Using the charts

You now have five charts that show how to play seventh chords in any key across the fretboard. What you do with these charts is up to you, but I suggest that you start by learning some of the easier shapes and use them to increase your chord vocabulary. Eventually, if you learn all the shapes (or a decent subset) you will have an extensive chord vocabulary. There are some other chords that you could add to the charts at a later date, such as sus7 chords (dominant seventh chords in which the third is replaced with a suspended fourth) and mMaj7 chords (m7 chords in which the minor seventh is replaced with a major seventh).

The other thing I suggest is that you print out the charts, so you can consult them without looking at a computer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s