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Lesson 29: More Confusion about Inversions

QUESTION: I’m a little confused about how the chords are supposed to be played based on the key of a song. For example I was playing a chord ‘C7’ in the key of C, but when I went to play another song in the key of F the ‘C7’ chord finger positions were different. My question is: Based on knowing the finger positions of the basic chords (Majors, Minors and Seventh) in the key of C how do I know where to place my fingers for these chords when the song is in a different key?

ANSWER: There are two topics here. First, what key does the C7 chord belong in? In actuality, it can be in many different keys. Arguably, it can be played in all keys. But it primarily belongs to the key of F. It’s the “dominant” chord of the key of F. Yet it’s regularly found in the keys of C, Bb, Ab, Eb, and less often Db. In the other major keys, the C7 is found much less often.

The second topic deals with the different fingerings. What you are probably seeing are different inversions. An inversion is a chord that has the same notes as another chord, but the notes are played in different order. Since a C7 chord has four notes, any one of the four notes could be the lowest; thus you have four different ways you could arrange these four notes. The notes would be the same four, thus you would still have the C7 chord, but since they are constructed differently, they are in different inversions. When you see two different ways to play a C7 chord in a book, what you are no doubt seeing are two inversions of that chord.

Now here’s the good news. You only have to learn the C7 chord (or any chord for that matter) one way. One inversion. You can use that one inversion anytime you have to play that chord, no matter what song, no matter what key.

That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well yes, it’s a simple strategy for beginners. But as you mature as a piano player you will want to start learning other inversions of the various chords. Ultimately you should learn and use all of them.

There are too many reasons why you need to do this to mention here. But my advice to you is not to worry. Just learn one or two inversions of each chord you need for the time being, and have fun playing your favorite songs. When you feel a need to grow, let inversions grow with you.

The topic of inversions was also covered in One Minute Lesson 18 and Lesson 19.

For further information on inversions, see our program on Power Chords.

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