Talking About Inversions


PianoDiana: Inversions

Awhile back I wrote a post on What are chord inversions? I got to thinking about how easy it was to understand the explanation but then some of my piano students shared with me that inversions are like standing on your head and then playing a game of leap frog!

Let's take a look at this a bit more...

  • When the root is on the bottom of a triad, it is in root position.
  • When the 3rd is on the bottom of a triad, it is in first inversion.
  • When the 5th is on the bottom of a triad, it is in second inversion.
 By playing all of these options, you are building your chord vocabulary. You might want to practice all your major and minor chord inversions with both hands.

What happens when intervals stand on their heads? It's inversion.

How do you invert an interval? Just lower the top note by one octave, or raise the bottom note by one octave... the same interval results either way. The only difference is that the resulting inverted interval will be an octave higher using the second method. The thirds and sixths you used to harmonize a major scale are inversions of each other, as are the perfect fourths and perfect fifths.

Why bother inverting intervals? There are many reasons. Intervals that invert to each other, such as the perfect fourth and perfect fifth, share similar general sound characteristics. Understanding interval inversion will help immensely in getting around scales, keys, and very importantly, on your instrument.

All intervals of a certain quality always invert to a specific quality (major intervals always invert to a minor interval. Only perfect intervals invert to the same quality (a perfect interval). All others invert to a different quality (diminished intervals invert to augmented intervals).

Similarly, interval numbers always invert to specific interval numbers (thirds always invert to sixths, seconds to sevenths, etc.) These are both worth knowing. Here are two charts that deal with the general interval quality and the general interval number, or the size of the interval.

Interval Type < Inverts To> Interval Type

perfect <_> perfect
major   <_> minor
minor   <_> major
tritone  <_> tritone
diminished <_> augmented
augmented <_> diminished

Interval <Inverts To> Interval

unison <_> octave
2nd      <_> 7th
3rd       <_> 6th
4th       <_> 5th
5th       <_> 4th
6th       <_> 3rd
7th       <_> 2nd
octave  <_> unison

A helpful theory book you might like is, 300pg Piano By Ear Home Study Course

There's so much more on this subject, like intervals for ear-training with the general sound of various intervals. We'll talk about ear-training methods later on.

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