Chord Inversions: How to Make Your Chord Progressions Sing

Learn how to use Chord Inversions to make chord progressions more fluid and interesting.

Watch Joe Hanley, the creator of Syntorial and Building Blocks, as he walks you through the process of using inverted chord voicings to create a top-line that really sings.

Try the full version of this lesson, which includes an interactive ear training challenge in our online DAW, as part of Building Blocks. Building Blocks is an online music production and composition training course that will teach you how to write music in a DAW.


In this excerpt from Building Blocks 2 I’m gonna show you how to use chord inversions to make your chord progressions more fluid and interesting. Let’s dive right in.

Chord inversions. What are they? Chord inversions will allow you to take your chord voicing to the next level. And if you recall back to Building Blocks 1, voicing refers to how you arrange the pitches in your chord.

And we’ve only had two options so far, with the fifth and without the fifth. Well, chord inversions are gonna bust that wide open and give us so many options as far as how we voice our chords. This is where the true artistry of chord progressions lie.

So, let’s take a look at this chord progression. These are all in root position. One chord, four chord, six chord, five chord are all in root position. Which is just the position we’ve been using so far. The root is at the bottom, then the third, then the fifth.

Now, this sounds fine and some songs will do this. But there’s something about this I don’t like. And that is when you have a root change, that is a bit of a jump like one to four. It creates kind of a jumpy, clunky sound as these chords just ♪ ♪ jump between each other. Even this four to six jump’s kind of clunky.

Really the only thing that sounds kind of nice and sort of smooth is the six to five ’cause they’re so close. And that clunky sound can kind of come off as a bit amateur. And this is where inversions come into play.

I’m gonna take this chord here this four chord, and I’m gonna invert it downwards by taking this top note, the one. And moving it down an octave, to this one down here. Now, what do we get? Right. Compare. Jumpy. Smooth. Because chords don’t actually care where you put their pitches.

This is a four major chord. That means it’s a four, six and one. You can play four, six and one, any way you want. You could spread them out all over the place put them anywhere, or in our case, invert them. And you still get that four major chord sound.

Let’s put this back and let’s invert the six chord as well. Our top pitch is three. So let’s take it down an octave to this lower three. And notice how I use the term octave. Octave is the distance between any same number.

So as we already know, one to one is an octave but so is three to three. The distance between two and two, seven and seven. If it’s the same number there’s always gonna be 11 pitches in between and so it’s always gonna be an octave interval.

I love this, ’cause we’ve created this sort of stepping up motion. Sounds really nice. So now, not only do we have this smoother transition between the chords because their pitches are closer to each other, but we’ve also created this interesting top line. This is where the artistry lies.

Let’s look at a couple more examples. I’ll invert our five chord down. So this is a two go down to two. Let’s invert this chord again like the one down, the one. All right. Infinite options here.

Personally, I liked this walk-up. That’s where I would go. The point is, you get to choose. So when you’re writing a chord progression choosing what chords to use, in this case one, four, six, five, that’s only half the battle. The real art form here, is how you voice those chords. How are you going to play those chords?

Now we can also invert upwards. Like see this one major chord. I’ll take the one. I’ll put it up here. And then to keep all the pitches close, I’ll put our four chord back in root position. Let’s now look at this. Our top note is one, one, one, one, one, all the way until the last chord. I didn’t even realize that these three chords all shared, the one. Until we did this.

Now we move easily through these chords. No jumpiness, no cockiness whatsoever. Let’s compare. Nice. Now, as I mentioned in the beginning, this is an excerpt from Building Blocks, our online music production and composition course.

And if you like this video, there are tons more in Building Blocks. And the lessons also include interactive challenges in which you recreate drum patterns, basslines, chord progressions and melodies, as well as write your own in this online DAW that you’re seeing here.