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Week 18: Do I Need to Know Chord Inversions?

Q. How important is it for me to know the chords in root position? Some I know in root position. Others I learned in a different, but correct position.

A. There are two answers to your question.

  1. not important at all, and
  2. very important indeed

Let me explain.

Chords are often taught to beginners in root position. This way a beginner can easily see the root of the chord on the keyboard and make an association between that note and the chord itself. It reinforces the concept and accelerates the learning process.

At a beginning level, one needn’t learn chords in more than one inversion, as any inversion of any given chord will work in a song. Beginners can now focus on learning new chords and new songs without cluttering the mind with memorizing three or four inversions of each chord.

Our teaching method is based in part on getting students up and running with piano proficiency as quickly as possible. The sooner it becomes fun for the student, the more likely the student is to stay with it. So keep with what you know for the time being.

Having said that, I now must say there are many good reasons to learn chords in all inversions — eventually. For one thing, some inversions are less awkward to play with the left hand. The C7 chord, for instance, is awkward to play in root position; first inversion makes more sense.

Another reason is that varying inversions from chord to chord helps keep the hand in the same vicinity of the piano. With less distance to travel your chord changes are less choppy, faster, and more accurate.

Yet another reason is that chords sometimes sound too high or too low on the keyboard when played in root position. And for another reason, using inversions helps us voice chords so that we can keep the melody note on top — useful in certain styles of playing.

So beginners can skip the inversions for the time being. But learning inversions definitely helps the intermediate and advanced players find the sound and technical goals they seek. Getting students to master the inversions and ESPECIALLY KNOW THE REASON WHY they are mastering them is another part of our philosophy.

Learning the different chord inversions on the guitar is far less important for most people. Many weekend guitar strummers know their chords only one way, and are content to play them that way. The exceptions are the serious students of jazz and classical guitar.

For further information on using inversions, refer to our Courseware to Go programs Power Chords or Praise.

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