i can't seem to get a hang of inversions. how do you know when to use them when songwriting? how can these be best used to make a song sound better?
Whenever function or voice leading dictates their use. I suggest picking up a harmony textbook (Such as Piston's Harmony) if you want to study this in detail.
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A lot of the time, they're used when voice leading. Voice leading is, when going from one chord to the next, you keep at least one note from the previous chord. Basically it creates a smoother soundig transition.
Here's a common change that incorporates both inversions and voice leading;

Cadd9 - G/B - Am7.

E--------------- Hopefully you can see what I'm talking about here.
If not let me know.
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whenever you feel like it TBH, but yeah voice leading and key transitions are common places where you will see them.
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hah. i use them all the time on guitar without knowing it. i just cant use them effectively on piano.
I understand that a lot of the 'standard' chords i play are inversions, but what i want to know about paticularly is using inversions of the I chord in a progression and using that for voice leading. i did see one example once but it was a peice of music from the 1700's. Are there particular progressions that incorporate this technique or what?
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Inversions are used basically for smoother voice leading, generally to avoid jumps in the bass. For example a progression goes: D A G... well rather than having the bass follow with D A G, the bass can go D C# B. Putting the C# underneath the A triad utilizes first inversion (first inversion = 3rd in the bass, second inversion = 5th in the bass, third inversion = 7th in the bass) and just give the progression a smoother feel.
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Last edited by trey-col89 at Feb 23, 2009,
inversions on piano are pretty obvious i think, just write your progression and then try to keep your hands in the same general place (it will force you to use inversions) unless you want the piece to move around a lot it generally sounds better if you use inversions. Or just play some songs on the piano using full chords from the root and then play it with the root in the bass in the left hand and inversions in the right hand staying close to the same place, the difference is apparent...
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trey-col89 outlines a popular usage for inversions. something similar is to think of things like "pedal tones" where you're carrying a note(s) through multiple chords....often done with open strings, but if you can rearrange the chords with inversions it's often possible to make smoother sounding transitions without open strings.