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Piano Fact

Lesson 34: The Third Inversion

Question: In Lesson 19 you say that jazz uses first and third inversions, rather than root and second. How do you make a third inversion? Can you also talk about the special jazz chord voicings?

Answer: Quick review. If you don’t yet know what an inversion is, read Lesson 19 now and then jump back here.

When a chord’s root is the lowest note played, we say the chord is in Root Position. When the third is on the bottom, the chord is in First Inversion. When the fifth of the chord is on the bottom, the chord is in Second Inversion.

One of the basic tenets of jazz theory is that there are no triads in jazz. Every jazz chord is a seventh chord of some type — containing either a major seventh, a dominant seventh or (rarely) a diminished seventh. Therefore, a chord that has its seventh on the bottom is in Third Inversion.

In the chart below we have some typical jazz chords. It’s a ii V I chord progression in the key of C. Don’t be alarmed because you can’t find the root in these chords. Jazz chord voicings typically don’t include roots. And they do tend to pick up colorful extensions such as 9ths and 13ths.

Without going into too much potentially confusing detail about these voicings, just note how each three-chord (ii V I) sequence alternates between the first and third inversions. Try playing these inversions on the piano. Two things you should notice. First, they sound modern and jazzy. Second, there is very little finger movement when you move from chord to chord in each ii V sequence.

 Dm9 (ii)

G13 (V)

 C6/9 (I)

 1st inv.

 3rd inv.

1st inv.

 

 

 Dm9 (ii)

G13 (V)

  Cmaj7 (I)

  3rd inv.

  1st inv.

  3rd inv.

These diagrams were taken from our book Power Chords. There you will find the ii V I jazz chord voicings written out and played on cassette in all 12 keys. Also in Power Chords is a much more complete treatment of inversions in general.

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