Take Your Playing Up a Level – Inverting Chords

Learn About Inverting Chords

Our first article on chords focused on how to make the basic 60 chords.  By inverting chords you take your playing up a level and will sound much more professional.  Knowing how to make them is the first step.  The second natural step is to start using them in various ways.

Here are some more ways to apply chords to the piano

The first and most obvious is to just play the chord.  However, this doesn’t have to be done in the same position it is made.

For example:  When we first make a chord as described in making chords, it is in the   “root” position.  This simply means that the root (the key that names the chord) is the lowest sounding key when the chord is played. On the piano, that would be the key furthest to the left of all the other keys of the chord.

Make a F major chord, and play it with the left hand starting on the F key just below middle C.  The F key is the lowest sounding of all the keys being played.  Move the F key on the left side of the chord to the right side of the chord so that you have, from left to right, A C F.  This is still a F major chord but it is upside down now or inverted.  It also sounds a bit different too.  Apply inverted chords by using the chords you play in different inversions.

We call this process inverting  chords.  The word invert just means it has been turned upside down.  The lowest key that is played in this position is now an A but the chord is still a F major chord because it still has F A C in it.  This is also referred to as the “First Inversion” because it is the first time we have inverted the chord.  The keys are just in a different order on the keyboard. If you did this with a word in the English language it would become a different word.   However, in music, this doesn’t happen. Playing the keys F A C, A C F, or C F A doesn’t change the fact that this is a F major chord. It will sound a little different but it is still a F major chord.

Here is another way of inverting chords.   This  “effectively” inverts a basic chord on the piano and is done by playing the chord with the right hand but add another key with the left hand that is further to the left than where the chord is played.

Example:  Play the F major chord again but with the right hand in the same place as before, first inversion.  Now with the left hand, add  another F key an octave further to the left on the piano.  Because the lowest key played now is F, the chord is considered to be in “root” position.  Keep the keys you are playing with the right hand as they are but in the left hand play the A key.  This “effectively” inverts the chord to the first inversion, but we did it in a different way.

Now let’s have some fun!  Keep the keys for the F chord with the right hand as before.  Take the left hand and place the fingers over the keys that make an F chord but an octave to the left from where your right hand is.  Place your little finger on the F key.  Play the chord with the right hand and the F key with your left little finger all at the same time.  This is still root position.

Now do the same thing again except play the A key with the middle finger of your left hand.  This effectively changes the F major chord to  its first inversion.

Do the same thing again except play the C key with the left thumb.  Again, this effectively inverts the chord but to its second inversion this time.

And lastly play the A key again with your left middle finger.

Do this over and over until it is smooth.  Play each chord in this manner so it is evenly spaced in relation to the one before and the one after.  If this were written on music it would appear as 4/4 time and 4 quarter notes to the measure.

This pattern described above is sometimes referred to as “comping” at the piano.  It’s used to accompany another instrument that plays the melody of a song, or someone that is singing, or even playing the melody further to the right on the piano.  One person would do the comping, and another would play the melody.

Practice inverting chords as described above until it is fully understood.  It will challenge you a bit at first but you will love the results.  Do it.  It’s a lot of fun to play around with the piano this way, especially with a family member or a friend playing the melody further to the right on the piano keyboard.

Have fun!  After all, that is what music is all about.

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