How to Play Piano Chord Inversions

Piano Chord Inversions

Let’s look at how to play piano chord inversions. Using inversions gives us lots of options for playing a chord on the piano, and can help bring the music to life!

Piano Chord Inversions Chart

piano chord inversions chart

Get Your Piano Chord Inversions Chart

Before we look at inversions, be sure to get your piano chord inversions chart so you can use it as a reference at the piano. This chart shows the inversions for major chords. Get your copy below:

What Are Inversions?

Inversions are when we rearrange the notes of a chord, so the root note (the note the chord is named after) is not at the bottom of the chord.

Here’s what that means:

Chords can be played in different positions. The number of possible positions depends on the number of notes in the chord. If a chord has three notes, there are three possible positions for that chord, because there are three possible notes that could be at the bottom of the chord.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

Root Position

“Root position” is when the root note of the chord – the note the chord is named after – is at the bottom of the chord. So a C major chord in root position would be:

C – E – G

c chord piano

This is the most common way to play a C major chord.

First Inversion

But if we move the C note to the top of the chord like this . . .

E – G – C

piano chord inversions

. . . we’ve inverted the chord.

This is called “first inversion”, because we’ve moved the root note to the top of the chord, and now the second note of the chord (in this case, an E) is the lowest note.

learn piano chords charts printable pdf

Learn Piano Chords Printable

Get started learning piano chords with this 32-page PDF. These charts will lay a great foundation for you at the piano, and will be referenced again and again!

Second Inversion

But what if we do it again? If we take our lowest note, E, and move it to the top of the chord like this . . .

G – C – E

piano chord inversions

. . . we’ve inverted the chord again.

This is called “second inversion”, because we’ve moved the lowest note of first inversion to the top of the chord, and now the third note of the chord, G, becomes the lowest note.

If we tried to invert the chord once more, by moving the G note to the top of the chord, we’d be back to root position.

Let’s Take Another Look

Now let’s try the same thing with a G major chord.

Root Position

In root position, a G major chord looks like this . . .

G – B – D

g chord piano

. . . because the root note of the chord, G, is at the bottom of the chord.

First Inversion

If we move the G note to the top of the chord, we’ve created the first inversion of this chord:

B – D – G

piano chord inversions

Second Inversion

If we take first inversion and invert the chord again, we’ve created second inversion:

D – G – B

piano chord inversions

Since this chord has three notes, there are three possible positions for playing the chord.

(A four-note chord would also have third inversion, because there’s an additional note that could be the lowest note of the chord, creating “third inversion”.)

Why Does This Matter?

Once you become fluent with inversions on the piano, you have lots of options for playing the same chord . . . all over the piano!

For example, if you’re playing a C chord, instead of playing it only in root position, you can play it in first inversion, then back to root position. Then play it in second inversion, then first inversion again.

You can play these inversions up high and down low, all over the piano, playing just one chord!

To others, it looks like you’re playing something really complicated, but all you’re really doing is playing one chord (and it’s really fun!).

I use inversions when I create impromptu music at the piano and when I play chord charts (this is a chord chart). It’s really rewarding to play creatively like this!

How to Practice

I only play inversions with my right hand, because my left hand is usually playing something more simple. So I would recommend just practicing these inversions with the right hand.

Here are some good chords to start with:

C major
G major
D major
A major
E major

One way to practice would be to play the chord in root position, then first inversion, then second inversion, then root position again, repeating that pattern all the way up or all the way down the piano.

Eventually it will be so easy to find inversions you won’t even have to think about it!

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about inversions is that they open up a whole world of music to you at the piano! The more you practice them, the more they become second-nature to you . . . and the more fun the piano becomes!

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32 Comments

  1. Nareshkumar Handagama

    The explanation of piano chord inversion!
    Boy how I want you as my teacher!!

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      I’m so glad it’s helpful!

  2. Vanessa Palmer

    Thank you Julie, you explain things in a way that I never see anywhere else which helps me with learning to play the piano.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      I’m so glad to hear that, thank you so much for the kind words!

  3. Abi

    thank you so much! God bless you

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      You’re welcome, I’m glad it’s helpful!

  4. Robert

    Let me make some corrections to my text on March 23, 2033.

    The first sentence should have read as: “I have been playing drums and I have ideas of playing piano”

    And the last sentence should have read as “Do you find that this is true for all songs?”

    Sorry, I should proof read my text before sending
    ….lol
    Robert

    Reply
  5. Robert

    I have been playing with Idea of playing piano. I’m a drummer and have my own band. I wanted to play piano to get more involved in chords and there progression in a song. I got real serious this year and dived into it. I started by educating myself on chords. The book I used was clear as mud about inversion. I finally figured it out. Your explanation is something I can remember quickly in identifying a chords. All the songs I have reviewed seem to use inversion chords with some basic major and miner chords. Do you find that this is tire for all songs?

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      I’m glad you’re learning piano chords! You’re right, inversions are very common in songs, since they create smooth transitions between chords for blending the music, and can make other chords easier to reach. Inversions can be used for other chord types besides major and minor chords, but since major and minor chords make up the majority of the chords used in most songs, they are very common.

  6. Kostas

    merry Christmas

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you, you too!

  7. Elaine

    Julie, your information is always so helpful. Can you review cadence and progressions in the major keys.

    Reply
  8. Liz

    I’m a senior, late bloomer, who had no prior musical abilities. As a beginner it is a challenge and a thrill to begin to understand music composition and implementation. I want to be able to praise my Lord with some ability; hopefully in heaven it will be more perfect. Thank you Julie and praying God will reward you for sharing your ability, knowledge, and talent.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Oh wonderful, I’m so glad you’re learning and enjoying music! Thank you so much for the encouraging message!

  9. Pam

    I have begun to volunteer at church as a supporting pianist/organist for contemporary Christian songs ( Matt Maher, Chris Tomlinson etc). My training was 7 years of classical music in my youth. It has been a transition to play chords vs melody but I am catching on, Chord inversions have become critical to keep up with the vocals. Cant wait for help with minor inversions, and eventually diminished, suspended? Big in church music. Blessings to you for offering this online.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you so much Pam, I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying chords and using them at church! Yes, inversions are so helpful when playing worship chord charts!

  10. JAMES BRUNSWICK

    I am really enjoying the beginning phases of learning the
    structure o f chords. It is exciting to listen to all the inversions.
    I have to learn slowly, as I am a slow learner. That’s ok for me.

    My favorite action is to play the major scale in every place on the keyboard. That is how I
    will get some familiarity with the sound of key signatures. I notice that some key signatures have a certain flavor that I don’t like, and some have a flavor I prefer.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying learning chords and practicing inversions and scales! Practicing scales will help you become familiar with non-chord notes (notes that do not belong to the chord, but belong to the key you are playing in), which you can add to your chords and inversions over time.

  11. Anthony Shaw

    I want to thank you Julie for allowing the Divine to use you this way. Showing these tips on YouTube would be awesome. I am grateful for what you have done so far. Thank you for being a blessing.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      You’re welcome, thank you for the kind words and encouragement!

  12. Stan Black

    just love the clear diagrams. I’m taking the Piano in 21 Days course and these diagrams are so helpful.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      I’m so glad they’re helpful!

  13. Jeanne Kozak

    My first piano teacher started teaching me with chord inversions on hymns and worship songs. I love how you explain the chords. He learned by ear at about three years old. Thank you for the materials you make available. God continue to bless your work of sharing music. I also love what you wrote about a piano is an invitation to create a song. My Baldwin looks like yours. I also have a 12 string Martin and 6 string Martin guitars. People ask me which I like better. So I tell them it’s like apples and oranges…you can like them both.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you so much Jeanne! I appreciate the kind words and encouragement. Enjoy your wonderful instruments!

  14. fred pringle

    thanks for all this information,,Blessings

    Reply
    • Julie

      Thank you Fred!

  15. Connie

    What a great tool for improvising! And so very well-explained.

    Reply
    • Julie

      Thank you, I’m so glad it was helpful!

    • Jan Ruben Pat

      Do you have video versions of tutorials?

    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you for your interest! I’m sorry I don’t currently have video tutorials available. If you’d like to check out more of the written content, these numbered posts are a good place to start: https://www.julieswihart.com/learn-piano/

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