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First and Second Inversions

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Any other chord that has the same-named notes as a root position chord is considered to be essentially the same chord in a different position. In other words, all chords that have only D naturals, F sharps, and A naturals, are considered D major chords.

Note: But if you change the pitch or spelling of any note in the triad, you have changed the chord (see Naming Triads). For example, if the F sharps are written as G flats, or if the A's are sharp instead of natural, you have a different chord, not an inversion of the same chord. If you add notes, you have also changed the name of the chord (see Beyond Triads). You cannot call one chord the inversion of another if either one of them has a note that does not share a name (for example "F sharp" or "B natural") with a note in the other chord.

If the third of the chord is the lowest note, the chord is in first inversion. If the fifth of the chord is the lowest note, the chord is in secondinversion. A chord in second inversion may also be called a six-four chord, because the intervals (Section 4.5) in it are a sixth and a fourth.

Figure 5.3 Three C major chords

It does not matter how far the higher notes are from the lowest note, or how many of each note there are (at different octaves or on different instruments); all that matters is which note is lowest. (In fact, one of the notes may not even be written, only implied by the context of the chord in a piece of music. A practiced ear will tell you what the missing note is; we won't worry about that here.) To decide what position a chord is in, move the notes to make a stack of thirds and identify the root.


Figure 5.4 Notes are G, D, and B. Rewrite as thirds


Figure 5.5 Notes are a G, 2 C's, and an E

Exercise 5.2:

Rewrite each chord in root position, and name the original position of the chord.

Figure 5.6 Exercise 5.2