Practical Applications of Minor Inversions

In this article, we are going to look at some quick and simple ways we can spice up our use of triads by using inversions.

Practical Applications of Minor Inversions
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In this article, we are going to look at some quick and simple ways we can spice up our use of triads by using inversions. We'll look at some theory behind how they work, some different shapes you can use, and some ways you can start incorporating these ideas into your playing and songwriting, from a rhythm and a lead perspective.

What is an inversion?

An inverted chord is one where the root note is no longer the bass note in the chord. I.e. the lowest note is no longer the first, but could be the b3 or the 5th (in the case of minor triads). If you are unsure what this means, check out the free eBook on my website that covers the fundamentals of music theory on the guitar. When it comes to the guitar, this term is sometimes applied more loosely to mean a different way to play the same chord. 

What does this mean?

This gives us three different ways to play each minor triad on a certain group of strings. What I mean is, on the guitar in general, there are dozens and dozens of ways we can play an E minor triad, but if we look at specific strings, for example, the low E, D and G strings, there are three ways we can play this triads on those strings.

Give me an example already!

So let's say we are using E minor. We get the following notes:
 E   G   B
 1   b3  5
When you play a normal open chord of E minor, we have E (open 6th string) as the lowest note. When we have an inversion of this chord, we have G or B as the lowest note.

So how can we employ the above idea into our playing? Well, using the E, D and G strings, we can play E minor in the following ways:

Figure 1

Do not play any open strings. Shape 1 is black, shape 2 is blue, shape 3 is green. Fingers are numbered inside each shape.

There are several ways you can use these shapes, pick through them with a clean sound, or play them all at once with an overdriven sound (make sure you mute the 5th string with whichever finger is on the 6th string, so for example, the black inversion, use the second finger to mute the A string, same for the blue inversion; and use your third finger to mute the 5th string on the green inversion).

Practical Applications

So if we are using an E5 power chord and we are in a key were the triad on E is E minor, we could replace the power chord with one of these inversions, which will drastically change the sound (example 1). You can also use these inversions to create anticipation by ascending through them (example 2). Or under an E power chord you could pick through some of these shapes using a clean sound (example 3).

If you are already playing an E minor chord, you can still use these shapes and you'll add some really nice texture to your song, so that you are not playing exactly the same chord as the other guitar player (example 4).

Integrating This Into Your Playing

Now you know 3 new chord shapes for E minor, it would be good if we can use these to create any minor chord. If we find the root notes (marked as triangles in Figure 2, below), we can now move these shapes around the fretboard and use these shapes to create inversions for other minor chords:

Figure 2

Root notes are marked with triangles. 

If you want to learn these shapes, try working out 3 ways to play the following chords using these shapes:
  • C minor
  • G minor
  • D minor
  • F minor
  • Bb minor
  • Eb minor

End Remarks

Now you have some new options, have an experiment! You can use these chords to replace minor chords or power chords you would normally use, or to add an extra layer to your music. You can create other interesting sounding inversions by choosing strings in groups of three and splitting the chord across those three strings. Leave a comment if you have any questions you would like me to answer, and post a YouTube link in the comments if you want to share some music you create using these chords! 

Tab examples

Example 1

Replace this:
e|----------------------------------
B|----------------------------------
G|----------------------------------
D|--2-------------------------------
A|--2-------------------------------
E|--0-------------------------------
With this:  or this:  or this:
e|----------------------------------
B|----------------------------------
G|--9---------4--------12-----------
D|--5---------2--------9------------
A|----------------------------------
E|--7---------3--------12-----------

Example 2

Creating anticipation by ascending through inversions:
e|----------------------------------
B|----------------------------------
G|-4-4-4-4-9-9-9-9-12---------------
D|-2-2-2-2-5-5-5-5-9----------------
A|----------------------------------
E|-3-3-3-3-7-7-7-7-12---------------

Example 3

Guitar 1
e|----------------------------------
B|----------------------------------
G|-9--------------------------------
D|-9---------------2----------------
A|-7---------------2----------------
E|-----------------0----------------
Guitar 2
e|----------------------------------
B|----------------------------------
G|-----4-------4-------9-------9----
D|---2---2---2---2---5---5---5---5--
A|----------------------------------
E|-3-------3-------7-------7--------
  Shape 1 Shape 2

Example 4

Guitar 1
e|---------0---------------0--------
B|-----------0---------------0------
G|-------0-----0---------0-----0----
D|-----2---------0-----2---------0--
A|---2---------------2--------------
E|-0---------------0----------------
Guitar 2
e|------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------
G|-----9-------9-------12------12-----
D|---5---5---5---5---9---9---9---9----
A|------------------------------------
E|-7-------7-------12------12---------
Shape 2 Shape 3
About the Author:
Sam Russell is a professional musician based in West London. He has recently published his first book, a tab book of Bach's 1st Cello Suite for electric guitar. Find out more for free on www.samrussell.co.uk.

8 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Jrhammett
    you by the title alone i thought inversions were something all together different, i realize now that i new what they were the whole time! nice.
    hthedinga
    Nicely written and useful article. One minor thing: the third chord shape isn't an inversion.
    Sam-Russell
    You're absolutely right, the root is in the bass so it is not an inversion. I made a note in the intro I was going to be a bit loose with the term "inversion", mainly to make the article easier to word.