As a basic introduction, inverting anything means you flip it around. Inverting an interval is simply flipping the order of the notes within the interval. For example, the interval of C - E becomes the interval of E - C, with the C flipping up an octave above the E. The E is the new lowest note.
Inversions of Triads
The major triad is constructed with the root, 3rd and 5th degrees of the major scale. The chord symbol C denotes a C major triad, consisting of the notes C-E-G, where the pitch of E is higher than C and the pitch of G is higher than E. When we invert a chord, the root note is no longer the lowest note of the chord, or put another way, the root is not in the bass.
Triads consist of three notes and this provides three possibilities for low note status. This so-called low note status has a specific name in music theory. Depending on which note is in the bass position, the chord may be named as root position, first inversion or second inversion.
The Third Inversion
The Third inversions exist with chords of four notes or more. Using C major 7th, C - E - G - B, as our example, B is the 7th of the chord. With the 7th, is in the bass, B-C-E-G, the root, 3rd and 5th are shifted an octave above it.
Inverted Triads - Root Position
The root position of a C major triad is clearly identified by the note C in the bass. C is the root of the triad, with the 3rd and the 5th stacked above it.
Inverted Triads - 1st Inversion
The first inversion of a C major triad is identified by the note E is in the bass. E is the 3rd of the triad, with the 5th and the root stacked above. Notice that the root is now shifted an octave higher.
Inverted Triads - 2nd Inversion
The second inversion of a C major triad is identified by the note G is in the bass. G is the 5th of the triad, with the root and the 3rd above it, again shifted an octave higher.
Notating Chord Inversions
Inversions are notated using the slash (forward slash on your qwerty keyboard), with the note in the bass position indicated after the slash. This clearly defines the chord as being either first or second inversion.
- C first inversion: C/E
- C second inversion: C/G
No, these are not chords played exclusively by the former guitarist of the 80s American Hard Rock band Guns N Roses. A slash chord is a chord with any note other than the root in the bass.
The modern slash chords cater for any note other than the root in the bass. This bass note can be either diatonic or chromatic. To put it another way, modern notation caters for any chord with a note other than the root, be it a recognised inversion or otherwise is written as a slash chord.
- D7/F# which is a D dominant 7th with F# in the bass
- F/G F triad with G in the bass
- C/E which is the C triad in the first inversion