Triads/Chord Inversions

This Lesson Covers how to build triads and how to invert them to create interesting chords on the guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Triads/Chord Inversions (+Applying them to Guitar) Table of Contents 1. Intoduction 2. Setting up Triads 3. Triad Inversion Introduction Hey Everyone, this is my first lesson on I thought I would share my knowledge on Chord Building. In this Lesson I am going to start with the basics, which is Triads and Inverting those triads. If you apply these techniques correctly, not only will you be getting a nice crash course in some music theory, but you will also be writing more creative pieces in no time. Hope you enjoy! Setting Up Triads First of all, what is a triad? Simple, a triad is just another name for a chord consisting of 3 notes that can be stacked into thirds. Now I know a lot of guitarists out there don't even know what a "third" means, so I am going to create a small table to help you understand intervals. Lets make C our root note, and 1 semitone is equal to a half step on the guitar. Also note that B to C and E to F are natural half steps in music.
Note | # of Semitones | Interval
 C   |       0        | Perfect Unison
C#/Db|       1        | Minor Second
 D   |       2        | Major Second
D#/Eb|       3        | Minor Third
 E   |       4        | Major Third
 F   |       5        | Perfect Fourth
F#/Gb|       6        | Tritone
 G   |       7        | Perfect Fifth
G#/Ab|       8        | Minor Sixth
 A   |       9        | Major Sixth
A#/Bb|       10       | Minor Seventh
 B   |       11       | Major Seventh
 C   |       12       | Perfect Octave
For now, we are just going to be focusing on rows 4 and 5, the major third and the minor third. So lets create a Cmajor triad with the info given. To create a Cmajor Triad we would start with the root note, which is C. Then we would go up a major third to get our second note, which would be E. To get our final note of the Cmajor triad, we would go up a minor third from E, which is G. Following this pattern will help you create any major triad. Just think of it as Major from the root, then minor from the third, or Mm, which is how I keep it in my head. Here are some very simple major triads that I am sure most of you know, and now you know that there is method to why they... sound so good!
  Cmaj  Amaj  Fmaj  Dmaj  
Okay, so now that you know how to form a Major Triad, you are probably wondering to yourself... How do I form a minor triad? This is very simple, you notice that a Major Triad is in the formation of Mm, or major third, then minor third. To form a Minor Triad it is just the other way around, mM, or minor third, then major third. So lets form a Cminor triad! We would start with a C, then going up a minor third we would land on a Eb. Then we go up a major third from Eb to get our final note which is G. Here are some examples of minor triads.
  Cmin    Dmin  Bmin   Emin
I am not going to go into Augmented and Diminished chords in depth in this lesson. But If you were wondering how to create them, here is the method to forming them. To create a Augmented Triad, you are going to stack two Major Thirds, MM. To create a Diminished Triad, you are going to stack two Minor triads, mm. In a future lesson I will explain when it is a good time to apply these chords and how they should usually be resolved in different types of music.
   E+     G+     Fdim   Bdim
Triad Inversion Okay so now that we have the basics out of the way, lets get into some concepts that are a tad bit more tricky, but definitely not overwhelming if you take a little time to study. Inversion can mean a couple different things in music, you can have inverted chords, inverted melodies, as well as more complex inversions like inverted voices. We are going to focus mainly on inverted chords. Lets refer back to how we built our Cmajor Triad, it consisted of C,E,G. Inversion has everything to do with whatever the bottom note to the chords is, or the Bass note. So a normal C chord obviously isn't inverted because C is the Bass note and it is also the root note of the chord. But what if we made E our bass note?
This would still be considered a Cmajor chord even though C is not our bass note. Since the third of the chord is our bass note, this would be considered first inversion. Anytime the third of the chord is the bass note, it is considered first inversion. Lets look at some examples.
  Gmaj/B  Fmaj/A  Amin/C   Bmin/D
B|-2-Db------------x-------12-B----|   First Letter is Chord Name
G|-0-G----2-A------2-A-----11-F#---|   Second Letter is Bass Note
There are many ways to form these chords on your guitar if you know where all your notes are located. If you don't... study your fretboard, and be creative! Lets move on to second inversion. Whenever the fifth of the chord is the bass note, it is considered second inversion. So if we refer back to the Cmajor triad again, this is one way it would look in second inversion.
G|-0-G--| G is the Bass Note and 
D|-2-E--| it is also a 5th away 
A|-3-C--| from C.
This applies to all chords in Second Inversion. Here are some more examples of Chords in Second Inversion.
  Fmaj/C   Amin/E   Dmin/A
That is all for now, hope this helped you better understand the creation of chords all around us. Study, experiment, and enjoy! Here is a tiny finger picking piece applying triads in root position and inversions. Go ahead and leave a comment if you have any questions.
  1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 +
  E           B           G           B
  B =Em       B =G Aug.   B =Gmaj     G =Em
  G           G(2nd Inv.) G(1st Inv.) E
  E           D#          B           
  1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1
  C           B           E           D#
  A =Am       B           C =Cmaj     B

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Excellent Lesson! You made this whole inversion thing finally make sense to me, Hope to read more of your articles in the future Cheers
    All of your examples are chords, not triads. This would be confusing when you need to actually play a three note chord that is a triad. Better to show where the triads are on the neck. i.e. when talking about the Cmaj triad ..just show where the R, 3rd and 5th, then show inversions. The will help back inversions clearer and help when chord soloing.
    All of your examples are chords, not triads. This would be confusing when you need to actually play a three note chord that is a triad. Better to show where the triads are on the neck. i.e. when talking about the Cmaj triad ..just show where the R, 3rd and 5th are, then show inversions. This will help make inversions clearer and help when chord soloing.
    forgive me if i missed something, but when you jump into first inveresions, you show Gmaj/B having notes G, B, Db. That would be a major diminished 5th chord. should be X2X033 with a D not Db. great lesson other than that!
    Oh yes thanks for pointing that out, my mistake and thank you.
    Tuna Helper
    The triad thing makes sense now that I realize that in building one you have to readjust the left "note" column when you get your major third. The inversions confuse me though.
    Triads occur in many places in music. One should recognize them in upper extensions of common chords such as a C9th. Top three notes form a minor triad ( G - Bb - D). In a C13#11 chord - top three notes comprise a Major triad ( D - F# - A ) or D major triad. It's good to play these when complex chords are called up.
    Hi, my name is Arthur, liked ur lesson though I need a little help with how to solo using chord inversions. thanx