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Home Music Study Vocal Music Text Book Section 7 - Chords and their Inversions

Section 7 - Chords and their Inversions

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       Before starting this section please read about the Chords  in Section 3. . We spoke of three keys with alternate names being needed to form the basic chord,  also called a Triad.  An alternate name is said to be a third above the former name.   Thus E is third above C, when seen on the stave.

      If we keep four notes one above the other in thirds, we get the chords of the seventh.   Emaj7, Em7, G7 etc.  

       If we keep five notes one above the other in thirds we get chords of the ninth   i.e. C9   Similarly, keeping six notes we get chords of 11th and by keeping 7 notes we get chords of 13th.  But, not all the keys in the chord will be used in the chording of 4 part harmony. - this subject is part of advance harmony, which will not be covered by this book.

      The lowest note of the set of thirds is called the Root of the Chord after which the Chord is named.     Thus Em7 = E G B D

      We know that the Major scale has a unique structure, (see page 36) which is not altered by transposition, (p.33 onwards).  Hence the patterns of chords remain the same, even if the scale is transposed, i.e. C scale raised to G scale, etc.

      Every scale has 7 sounds, and on each of them a chord can be built, which are not similar.   The first, fourth and fifth chords are similar and called Major Chords also classified as the Primary Chords of the scale.  Omission of these  chords from the music, will leave us in doubt about the scale in which the music is being played.  It is essential  that these are introduced early in music piece.

       The chords on the second, third and sixth note of the scale are similar chords, and called Minor Chords also classified as the Secondary chords of the scale.  Addition of these to the music, gives variety.

       The seventh chord on the Dominant, or fifth note of the scale is a very important "Discord" which almost leaves the music "in the air" and a strong urge is felt to follow it by a "Resolution".  Generally it is followed by the Tonic (first note of the scale) Chord.

      Roman Numerals can be used to describe the chords, as whatever be the scale, the pattern remains same.

·                     Thus: the Primary Chords, are numbered in Capitals: I IV and V.

·                     I is made of 1st,  3rd, and 5th notes of the scale.

·                     IV is made of 4th,  6th  and 1st notes of the scale.

·                     V is made of 5th , 7th and 2nd notes of the scale.

·                     The Secondary Chords are numbered in small numerals: ii, iii, vi

·                     “ii”  is made of 2nd , 4th and 6th notes of the scale.

·                     “iii” is made of 3rd , 5th and 7th notes of the scale.

·                     “vi” is made of  6th , 1st  and 3rd  notes of the scale.

·                     The Diminished Chord is marked in small numerals with a degree sign     vii°  and  is made of 7th ,  2nd  and 4th notes of the scale.

·                     Notes of transposed scales have sharps or flats as part of their structure.


·        Chords called Triads, have three inversions. 

·        Those having 4 sounds like the chords of the seventh have 4 inversions.  



When a chord has sounds bearing alternate names one above the other, it is said to be in root position.


                                                        1             2             3

You see above the C chord in three positions.  In each case, the lower note is placed on top.    The first example, where notes have alternate names and are placed one above the other in thirds is said to be in ROOT POSITION.   The lowest note is called the root    -  i.e. C



When Chords are in root position we write a letter 'a' after  the Roman numeral. When Roman numerals are given, the Scale name is given on the left



·        fThis Chord is said  to be the FIRST INVERSION,  when  the lowest  note of the Triad, the root, is placed on top.    

·                     In the first inversion, the lower two notes are at a distance of a third (having alternate names), and the top note is a fourth above the middle note, (having the fourth name from the one below it).    E to G  is a third, since G is the third name after E.   C is a fourth above G, since it is the fourth name after G.     Note that the distance (interval) between the bottom and top note is a sixth:  i.e.  C is the sixth name after/above E.


To form a first inversion of any  chord, find the fourth and the sixth names below the Root, and place them below the root:: i.e. G D B or C G E (root, fourth, sixth) - reading downwards.


Ø      When the Chords is in first inversion, we write 'b' after the Roman Numeral of the Chord..



·        cThis Chord is said to be in  the SECOND INVERSION when the top note of the chord (triad) in root position is placed at the bottom, and the other two notes on top of it.

·                     The distance (interval) of the lower two notes is a fourth, and upper two notes is a third.  G   to  C  is a fourth,  and  C to E is a third.   The Root is now the middle note.



To form a second inversion of a given Chord,  place a third above its Root , and a fourth below it. i.e. E.  C  G  (C is the root - second inversion of C chord)  The notes should be part of the scale.



Ø      When the chord is in second inversion we write 'c' after the Roman Numeral.


Ø      In Alphabet representation of a chord, we can not indicate the inversion,

Ø      In the Roman Numeral method, the inversion can be indicated.

Ø      The best method of indicating the chord is with the music script on the Stave itself, where the place of the note on the keyboard can be indicated..   The other methods are "short-cuts"


Common Notes between Chords:


There are common notes between chords, which give smooth movement to harmony..  


2 Common notes are to be found in chords whose roots  are a third or sixth apart in the ascending order..  


1 Common note is found in  chords whose roots are 4 or 5 intervals apart in the ascending order.

Now the art of having a smooth flow of  fingering, is to keep the common note/notes of the first chord  tied* with the common notes of the next chord.  This can be done, if we invert one of the two chords.  We should keep the common note on the same degree of the stave and use same fingers for playing them, i.e. bottom, middle or top, as the case may be. . In case of chords with 2 common notes,  they are kept on the same degrees of the stave as well.    The uncommon notes are just one step away from each other.

* A tie is defined on page 45.



How to connect chords with common notes

Connecting with first inversions:

When roots are 4 or 5 intervals apart (in other words their names are a fourth or fifth apart),  'a' root position connects to the 'b' first inversion of the next;  'b' first inversion connects to 'c' second inversion, and 'c' second inversion connects to 'a'.. 

connecting with second inversions


When the roots of chords are 3rd or 6th apart in the ascending order  the  'a' root position  connects to a 'c' second inversion.   The 'c' second inversion connects with the 'b'  first  inversion, and  the 'b' first inversion connects with the 'a' root position.



Inversions of the Seventh Chord:


Since a Chord of the Seventh has four notes, it is possible to have one more inversion than the Triads.   Thus we will have one more index;  that of  'd'. In each inversion, the lowest note becomes the top note.                                                               


A Dominant 7th chord is built on the 5th  note,  the Dominant of the scale. The other notes are the 7th , 2nd, and the 4th  the subdominant” which  is 7th from the Root  (Dominant).   In Auto chords, the 2nd note can be omitted.





            V7a                                    V7b                         V7c                         V7d



Electronic Auto chord Usage:

  Since 2nd note can be omitted in the Auitochord System

You can have only three inversions, i.e. 'a'   'b' and  'd '

F and G chords in triad position do not have common notes.   But F is a common note between the G7 and F chords, so these can follow each other, provided the common note is kept in the same degree, and the other notes go to the note nearest to the one which is not common.  In the same way, if there is a common note in the succeeding chord, the note should be held on the same degree, and the other notes should  move to nearest positions.

All notes which are 2nd  or 7th apart do not have common notes in their chords.


In general  such positions of the chords are to be chosen, which are close to the melody, but not overlapping it.   This is especially important, when playing the Organ in the Normal Mode (i.e. without auto chords).   The Auto chords have the lowest region  allocated to them, and so inversions suitable to this range should be chosen. In the following exercises, you will see this.

For Vocal Music Practice  Go to Mangalorean Recipes website, and download music from Church Music Section





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