Chord Inversions

Chords Inversions and the Bologna Sandwich

We introduced chords in the stride lesson. We developed the treatment of chords using variations of broken chords or playing blocked chords in rhythmical patterns. Today, let’s cover inversions.
Now, my students think chord inversions are nasty little inventions by piano teachers to use up precious leisure time. The musician who improvises knows them to be the backbone of his trade skill.

Why bother with chord inversions?

1.Knowledge of their written form helps you identify chords more quickly.
2.Inversions help you transition quicker between chord changes.
3.Variations for chord treatments multiply with this knowledge.

The Bologna Sandwich

Every time I teach chord inversions, nothing illustrates it better than a bologna sandwich (unless you’re talking peanut butter and jelly). Now, if you read my blog pages, you know I come from a long tradition of culinary snobs, so what you are about to read will never take place in my house, but for the sake of teaching chord inversions, I will put the noble club sandwich to humiliations.
1.If you place bologna, cheese and lettuce between two slices of bread you have a bologna sandwich.
2.If you place cheese, lettuce and bologna between two slices of bread you still have a bologna sandwich.
3.And if you place lettuce bologna and cheese between two slices of bread you still have a bolgona sandwich.
No matter what the order (sorry, Dad), the three ingredients make up a bologna sandwich. The same is true of chords. C-E-G make up a “C” major chord, but so does E-G-C and G-C and E. So let’s invert chords.

When the root is found on the bottom and the new two notes are seen as thirds, you are in the root position as found in the first chord. When you move the bottom note (called the root or “tonic”) up one octave and keep the other two notes in place, the chord is in the 1st inversion (see 2nd chord). Repeat the process again, with the “E” on top, the chord is now in the 2nd inversion (last chord).

Using Inversions for accompaniment

One can easily use straight chord inversions on any given beat of a measure, but I usually find it effective to play the tonic low on the keyboard on the first beat followed by the chord and its inversions. Look at the example below.

This has a rChord Inv-Laredoelaxed feel to support a slow, thoughtful melody. To be honest, on the last beat of the line (word “as” ) I would probably play a Bb instead of the middle “C”, thus making a C7 chord, but the main point is to experiment and listen. The ear is a very important tool when using improvisational skills.

Next time, we will talk about the alternate bass.

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