Chord Inversions to Transition Chords Smoothly

In this article, I will show you how to use chord inversions to transition chords smoothly within the song you are playing. This is to make sure that your hands don’t need to travel all the way to another segment on your keyboard just to play the next chord in your progression.

We have all seen very advanced piano virtuosos play a very difficult and fast piece of music. Their hands flying all over the place in a flurry of motion. It is nice to watch and we dream of being able to do the same. But the truth of the matter is, that it takes a lot of practice to control that kind of motion with laser point accuracy.

Even if you do have that level of accuracy. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! Less is often more!

Using inversions as you will see will give your music character. It will allow you to play melodic chords and harmonies. You will tap into different voices and you will be able to change the ‘feel’ of your song.

Not to mention that playing the piano should also be able to give you peace. You should be able to relax. The less motion you use, the less strain you will cause to your body. And that is true even for those hard songs with lots of motion. A lot of time and effort is taken into limiting the amount of strain to your body while studying those pieces.

Looking for something more basic? Don’t have a clue about what chords are or how you build them?
Check out this post instead ► Basic Piano Chords – Theory – Diatonic Sequence

Oh and if you were looking for chord formulas instead; I have them right here for you.
Chord Formulas

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What Are Inversions?

So what are these inversions? I guess the simplest explanation would be that an inversion of a chord is when you place the notes of that chord in a different order. I guess it would be best explained by example.

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Triad Inversions

Triad Root Position

The root position is the chord in its natural clustered form like for instance the triad of C major according to its formula: 1 – 3 – 5

C major root position

Triad First Inversion

The first inversion of a triad is when the root note of the base cluster is played an octave higher. This turns the formula of our instance into: 3 – 5 – 1

C major first inversion

Triad Second Inversion

The second inversion of a triad is when the root note and the third are both played an octave higher. This turns the formula of our instance into: 5 – 1 – 3

C major second inversion
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Triad Chord Progression Example

I – V – VI – IV progression

We can derive the chords for the I – V – VI – IV progression in the C major scale using this table

CDEFGAB
IIIIIIIVVVIVII
majminminmajmajminmin ♭5

I maj – V maj – VI min – IV majC maj – G maj – A min – F maj
You can learn more about this from my blog post about Piano Scales: The Major Scale.

Played in Root Position

Here is what the progression in the C major scale sounds like when all the chords are played in root position.

It doesn’t sound bad, but it sounds very basic and the chords jump a lot.

C major in root position
C major root position
G major in root position
G major in root position
A minor in root position
A minor in root position
F major in root position
F major in root position

Played with Inversions

Here is the same progression but using inversions to keep the chords from jumping around.

I am sure you will agree that it sounds a lot smoother than the previous example. And look at how little the chords need to jump.

C major in root position
C major in root position
G major in first inversion
G major in first inversion
A minor in first inversion
A minor in first inversion
F major in second inversion
F major in second inversion
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Tetrad Inversions

This is pretty much a repeat of what we did for the triads, but for completeness sake. (And because it is nice to hear the examples.)

Tetrad Root Position

The root position is the chord in its natural clustered form. For instance, the tetrad of C major 7, according to its formula: 1 – 3 – 5 – 7

C major 7 root position

Tetrad First Inversion

The first inversion of a tetrad is when the root note of the base cluster is played an octave higher. This turns the formula of our instance into: 3 – 5 – 7 – 1

C major 7 first inversion

Tetrad Second Inversion

The second inversion of a tetrad is when the root note and the third are both played an octave higher. This turns the formula of our instance into: 5 – 7 – 1 – 3

C major 7 second inversion

Tetrad Third Inversion

The third inversion of a tetrad is when the root note, the third and the fifth are all played an octave higher. This turns the formula of our instance into: 7 – 1 – 3 – 5

C major 7 third inversion
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Tetrad Chord Progression Example

I – V – VI – IV progression

We can derive the chords for the I – V – VI – IV progression in the C major scale using this table

CDEFGAB
IIIIIIIVVVIVII
maj 7min 7min 7maj 7dom 7min 7min 7 ♭5

I maj 7 – V 7 – VI min 7 – IV maj 7C maj 7 – G 7 – A min 7 – F maj 7
You can learn more about this from my blog post about Piano Scales: The Major Scale.

Played in Root Position

Here is what the progression in the C major scale sounds like when all the chords are played in root position.

As with the triads, the tetrads don’t sound bad, but it also sounds very basic and the chords jump a lot.

C major 7 root position
C major 7 root position
G dominant 7 root position
G dominant 7 root position
A minor 7 root position
A minor 7 root position
F major 7 root position
F major 7 root position

Played with Inversions

Here is the same progression using tetrads but using inversions to keep the chords from jumping around.

With tetrads I find that the effect of inversion is much bigger than what you get from inverting triads. This is now starting to sound like some genuine smooth jazz.

C major 7 root position
C major 7 root position
G dominant 7 second inversion
G dominant 7 second inversion
A minor 7 second inversion
A minor 7 second inversion
F major 7 third inversion
F major 7 third inversion

Two Basic Rules

So there are two rules when it comes to grouping your notes and using inversions to keep your hand movement limited to a minimum.

When progressing from one chord to the next:

  • See which notes are common in both chords and keep them in place
  • If the chord is an adjacent letter in the alphabet use the same inversion and move it one note up or down depending if the chord is the next or the previous letter in the alphabet

Conclusion

That was again quite a bit of information to process… I hope everything was explained with adequate clarity. If anything needs more explaining, please do let me know in the comment section and I will update this post accordingly.

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5 thoughts on “Chord Inversions to Transition Chords Smoothly”

  1. Wow! This is amazing. My sister has started to take an interest in the piano and after reading this I have already sent her the link to check it out.
    There is so much information to take in and you are so organized with all the content that it really helps to maneuver around to where you want to be. I know very little about the piano but after reading this I feel as if I can actually have a conversation with my sister about it now! Thank you for taking the time to help others that have the same passion as you do!

    Reply

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