How to Learn Triad Inversions On Guitar

A guitar chord is a group of notes played at the same time on the guitar. A triad is the most basic form of chord, one that has three notes.

A triad is in inversion when the root note is not in the bass.

In this lesson you will learn how to play triads in first and second inversion as well as how to practice and apply this to real musical situations. If you don’t know how triads in root positions are built, I suggest you go through this lesson first.

What are triad inversions?

The triad of C major is made of the notes C, E and G.

Unless specified that it should be played in an inversion, it is assumed that C major is played with the root note C, in the bass. 

In the following examples the triad of C major is being played in root position, since the note C is in the bass.

Note: In each example more than three notes are being played. These are still the notes C, E and G though with one or more notes repeated in a different octave.

Triad inversions 1

A triad is in first inversion when the second note of the triad, E in the C major triad, is in the bass.

In the following examples, we’re still playing the C major chord, but it’s played in first inversion since the lowest note is the note E.

Note: Inversions are notated as slash chords. For instance C major in first inversion is notated as C/E, since E is the bass note. C major in second inversion is notated as C/G, the G being the bass note.

A triad is in second inversion when the third note of the triad, G in the C major triad, is in the bass as in the examples below.

Why learn guitar triad inversions?

Learning all triad inversions on the guitar is very useful for intermediate and advanced students.

The following are some of the benefits:

  • Songwriting: Inverting a chord gives it a different sound which increases your options when coming up with guitar riffs and chord progressions.
  • Soloing and improvisation: Triad inversions can be used as an option when soloing, but knowing where to find all triad notes in any position is particularly useful in chord tone soloing.
  • Technique: Different triad inversions require different finger movements, thus it will improve your technique. You will also find triad inversions particularly useful when learning advanced techniques like sweep picking.
  • Ear training: Learning the sound of triads in root position and also in inversion will give you a set of organized sounds you can recall and use anytime you want. (Remembering and organizing sounds in your head is what ear training is all about. This gets even better when you know the theory behind the sounds, as we’ll be doing in this lesson. This way each sound has a name and you also know where to use it).

Triads in open and closed position

Triads, whether in root position or inversion can be played in a closed position, where all the notes are within the same octave, or in an open position where the distance between the notes is wider than one octave.

In this lesson you will only be given triads in closed position, since including triads in open position and their inversions would require you to learn a much larger number of patterns. 

Triad chord theory

The four types of triad chords:

The major triad is made of the 1st, 3rd and 5th degree of the major scale. Thus, the C major triad is made of the notes C, E and G

The minor triad is made of the 1st, b3rd and 5th degree of the major scale. Thus, the C minor triad is made of the notes C, Eb and G. (a flat sign before a degree of a scale means the note is “flattened”, played a semitone/fret lower)

The diminished triad is made of the 1st, b3rd and b5th degree of the major scale. Thus a C diminished triad is made of the notes C, Eb and Gb. 

The augmented triad is made of the 1st, 3rd and #5th degree of the major scale. Thus a C augmented triad is made of the notes C, E and G#. (a sharp sign before a scale degree means the note is “sharpened”, played a semitone/fret higher).

The following are the four triads in root position.

The most commonly used triads are major and minor. The diminished triad is used less frequently, but is important to learn since it is found in the diatonic major and minor key.

The augmented triad has a very dissonant sound and is only used in specific situations. You will not be given the shapes of the augmented triad in inversion in this lesson.

Guitar triad inversions

In this section of the lesson you’re given the triad inversions you should memorize.

Keep in mind that this is going to take you some time to memorize all these shapes. Do not put other areas of practice on hold while doing so.

Keep working on the other areas of guitar practicing and allocate time during some or all practice sessions to memorizing triad inversions. 

Major triad inversions

The following are the triads of C major in root position, first and second inversion.

Minor triad inversions

The following are the triads of C minor in root position, first and second inversion.

Triad inversions 7

Diminished triad inversions

Though less commonly used than the major and minor triad, the diminished triad is found in the diatonic major and minor key and thus deserves to be learned.

You will learn how to play triads in a key in the next section of this lesson.

The following are the triads of C diminished in root position, first and second inversion.

Triad inversions 8

Triads in diatonic keys

The next step after memorizing triad chords and their inversion is to see them in the context of diatonic keys.

The harmonized major key gives use the following triads:

Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, and diminished.

Thus the triads of the C major key are C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor and B diminished.

The following is the scale of C major harmonized with triads in root position.

In first inversion:

Triad inversions 10

In second inversion:

Chord progressions with inversions

In all the examples above, triads in each inversion are grouped together.

In chord progressions this is rarely the case. Some chords will be in root position while others in first or second inversion.

The study of which chord inversions sound well with each other is called voice leading.

The following is the diatonic chord progression I – vi – ii – V – I in C major: C – Am – Dm – G – C, with some chords in inversion: C – Am/C– Dm – G/D– C/E.


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