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Four Part Inversions Made Somewhat Easier

Gerry Scott-Moore, 2004
Part One - Concept
This treatise is not for beginners, but for the intermediate player. Its
assumed you know a few scales, though playing them may seem
meaningless to you. Its assumed you can play a lot of chords, though you
may feel weary of using the same ones over and over. If you dont know
what a chord or scale is, and/or if you cant play either, go elsewhere.
There are a number of guitarists whose perspective on all matters
musical are to shut up and play. This seems to hold true of guitar books
if the past 30 years are any example. There are few books explaining to
guitarists how to play. There are myriad example books, books with
solos transcribed, chords numbered and categorized, and certainly plenty
of non!guitar books on arranging, composition and orchestration.
It may be daunting to read the equivalent of two entire comic books of
text, in order to make these musical materials useful, but its meaningless
otherwise. If necessary, skip ahead to the chord grids play them a few
times and say, what the hell, this stu" sucks. And surely it will.
Instead, Im trying to provide a thorough and disciplined approach to
information for actual usage. My intent is to have each set of materials
lead logically to the next. Its not just a list of chords, hopefully its the
opposite of a clot of chords.
I was always frustrated by chord books when I was a kid. I wanted to
learn the hip chords I saw guitarists playing, so I opened up the chord
book and started playing chords, one after another, listening for
something that was hip. Its like smelling perfume. After youve tediously
ngered 20 chords a great chord could bite you on the ass and you
wouldnt recognize it.
In the jumbo book I owned, the chords were listed by type, so each 7#5
chord was together with all the other 7#5 chords. When I needed to nd
a G7#5 I could open the book, nd one that was easily ngered and
located in the general part of the neck I was living my life in, and move
on. Initially my life was lived in the rst 4 frets. I played Dylan and the
Beatles and other popular songs from sheet music which usually had the
ngerings illustrated in grids above the sta". When they sounded
crummy I looked for alternatives.
A few years later, playing in rock bands I more rarely had the need to
look up a chord. At this point I had graduated to the one!size!ts!all
approach of playing barre chords. So when I went snooping for a chord
in a book, I was now looking for a movable form, one that could more
easily be absorbed into this approach.
Clearly both situations were quite limited. Thats where a chord
dictionary gets you.
As I began studying jazz I learned another new series of chords. The rst
volume of Mickey Baker provides good examples. These are generally a
root bass note with a three!note chord located a distance above: a 5
, 6

or 7
. These were cool and held me for a very long time.
When I began working with pianists and bassists that listened,
sometimes wed quibble over a muddy sound generated by close
intervals between the instruments in the lower part of the audio
spectrum. The standing logic is that one shouldnt play a 3
, for instance,
below a certain range. Say beneath the C below middle C. There are
general limits for all such intervals. Seemingly no amount of crap
produces this mud between bassists and pianists, its only when a guitar
enters that it becomes muddy.
So the solution for me became playing higher on the neck, playing
voicings that didnt make use of the lower strings, ensuring my lowest
interval was pretty wide, that kind of thing. Not that most chord books
werent already useless, but now they were even more so. Now I had a
much more broad philosophy about how chords could be used and
where, but no philosophy for constructing chords for these various
Im still working on it. Though now its fun rather than frustrating. My
views may not be shared by everybody. Im reasonably convinced that
nobody has taken the time or energy to talk about what guitarists think
and how they approach such matters. I think that could be handy. I
know that my thinking has been wrong in these matters repeatedly and
Ive discarded more approaches than I can count. So I certainly know a
lot of ways not to do it.
For the most part we have theory books that explain how chords are
constructed, how voice!leading should work, what altered and extended
chords are. There are myriad chapters on scales and modes and their
association with chord structures. These books are applicable to pianists,
as most chordal examples are illustrated for piano. Horn players, bassists,
and drummers are expected to sit at the piano and delve into this
abstract world. Seemingly, guitarists are also expected to sit at the piano
and gure out for themselves how this works, and does not, within their
own style.
And then there are newer chord books. Most of them are still buckets of
chords. A few are worthwhile and the chords are given in a logical and
related fashion. My favorites are those by Chuck Wayne, Vincent Bredice
and William Leavitt.
Unfortunately the book by Wayne gives no explanation of their usage.
Additionally its incumbent in publishing to make an entire book of what
otherwise might be 8 pages of diagrams. In Waynes book, chords are all
still static entities pasted into the scrapbook. Bredice and Leavitt give
more description and analysis of chord usage, but these books attempt
to address everything for the guitar, thus their specic impact for chords
is reduced. Still I endorse these books as the best of the lot. Not all
books can or should be all things to all players.
In order to navigate the guitar one needs to have any chord type
available in any position within the range of a fret or two. For chordal
instruments voice!leading is a quest in which each note is seen as an
entity, a voice that would logically move up or down with the passing of
harmony. This, instead of a clump of notes that bounce wildly around,
sometimes three notes, sometimes ve, as suits the limitations of the
musician, his hands, his instrument. Thats no more a solution than
hammering a nail with whatever is handy#a shoe, a book, the heel of a
bottle. That may seem reasonable, but not if youre youre not a
Voice!leading in orchestras and big!bands is high!science which exacts
the best way to achieve and resolve tensions, move smoothly and support
or contrast with the melody. The critical demands are not great. A few of
Each voice should move logically when viewed by itself.
Skips should be no more than a third, if possible,
s generally resolve upwards, 7
s resolve downward.
All rules can be violated to suit a composers intent.
That last item: it means that you can violate any rule you like, but you
ought to have a reason. Violating a rule because you dont know what
youre doing is not really disregarding it. Maybe, if you knew better,
youd avoid it like the plague since, come to nd out, its what makes
your playing sound limited to you.
Some instructors believe that a beginner should start with triads. Three!
note chords composed of the root, third and fth. Learn them fully.
When nished with that task, add a 7
. Learn these fully. Then learn to
alter and modify elements of these chords. Maybe later you might make
use of triads, representing limited aspects of the upper structures of
extended chords.
I think thats a great way to learn, if you can put o" having fun that long.
Most jazz beginners know that triads dont sound anything like jazz.
Triads have no tension and so are at and lifeless. Beginners want to
learn Maj7s, m9s, 13s and so forth. These sound like jazz to them. I see
their point. You learn the complex. Then you learn the simpler
components of the complex. Then, knowing how both structures work,
you use simple components to build your own complex structures.
In any case, Ill oblige: We start start beyond triads, with the larger
Part Two - Scope
Chords move. Thats what they do. If you have a complaint with that
logic, I cant help. Grooves, loops, vamps; theyre just ne. They dont
comprise anything that needs to be explained: Find a chord, play it. In
the rest of the harmonic universe chords move.
They can move in a few di"erent ways. Heres a few well concentrate on:
Inversions: G7 to G7/B $G7 over its 3rd%, G7/D $5th%, G7/F $7th%.
Scale tone motion: Gmaj7, Am7, Bm7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, F#m7b5.
Cycle of fths: II & V & I motion.
Chromatic motion.
Motion via inversion is great for situations in which the chord doesnt
change but the melody does, or if the harmony is static for too long.
Inversions are a great place to begin studying, because of their inherent
logic. So now Im going to deal a pile of chords. You memorize them and
play them for a year. Youll know all the chords, or starting points for
chords, that youll ever need.
Chords fall into few basic categories by function. These are minor
chords, dominant $or 7
% chords, and major chords $including Major 6,
6/9 and such%. There are also diminished and augmented chords which
function primarily as dominants. Some theorists have reasons to keep
them in separate rooms, I dont.
A vagrant category is the m7b5 also called half!diminished. Its odd
because it can operate either has a minor chord $m6% as well as a
dominant $9th%. Because I use it di"erently, for sorting purposes, I treat
it di"erently.
By denition, suspended $or 7sus4% chords are dominant, but they can
function in all three basic categories depending on usage. They are
ambiguous and so I treat them separately.
There are jillions of voicing formats. Im going to focus initially on the
top 4 strings and then the inside set of 4 string. There are lots of other
voicing approaches. A favorite for guitarists who want to cover that
lower region of the neck, carry their own bass lines, etc., is to use
voicings that use the low E string and then the DGB strings.

Likewise their positional cousin, the A string in conjunction with the top
3 strings.
These are satisfying voicings and usually sound good; solid, full, rich.
They tend to focus a guitarists brain!!sight, ear and hand#towards the
root, specically the root on the bottom two strings. The concluding
mode of thinking has one believing that harmony is a thing that is built
from something on the E or A strings and then structures upwardly. I
assume you know these chords.
Its a limiting way of thinking. For the time being Im going to focus on
rootless harmony. Its pretty, certainly a little ambiguous, but a great
way to unlearn the root!centric approach. Its also a good way to make
instinctive the avoidance of muddy voicings with pianists and bassists.
The immediate voicing of concern is an open voiced 7
Positioning will be a primary concern since chords that arent really
playable are simply theory. Theory belongs in piano books for saxophone
players to read.
Top 4 Strings
The voicing structure is Root!fth!seventh!third $henceforth R573%. This
is an open voicing because the chord tones are lined up in order. The
third, for convenience of ngering, has been moved from its logical
location as the second note from the bottom and put at the top. Rather
than R357 it is R573. This particular misplacement is also called drop 2
as the 2nd note has been dropped to the bottom.
When this voicing is inverted it becomes R573, 37R5, 5R37, 735R. These
are called root voicing, 1
inversion, 2
inversion and 3
inversion. They
can also be called root voicing, 3
in the bass, 5
in the bass and 7
the bass. In the bass means its lowest note, even though it may not be
in bass register.
We will do this inversion process for Major 7
, Minor 7
, Dominant 7

and 7sus4 chords and youll have scads of usable voicings.
Inside 4 Strings
The voicings are the same, but due to the tuning of the guitar the
ngerings are di"erent.
Because of periodic di'culties with ngerings some voicings are either
impossible to nger or generally dont sound good. Dont sound good is
relative. For our purposes they would be considered lower!yield, less!
satisfying or not as generally useful as others. A major 7
with the 7
the bass is a good example.
For the most part its unusable as a chord anywhere but in the highest
registers, and even then it demands there be a bass player somewhere
playing the root if its to be perceived as a DMaj7. In many places it can
certainly be used as a transitional chord, played briey between two
other chords. Well consider transitional materials later.
One might think the next logical set would be the lowest 4 strings.
Nope. Well disregard them. They are generally too low to sound good.
Certainly, contingent on circumstances, some can work, but the amount
of energy thrown at such voicings is not commensurate to their yield. If
you want to pursue them, help yourself at some later date. Heres what
they sound and look like:
Some of the voicings on the inside four strings will also be suitable only
in limited circumstances: Youll move through them to less dense
voicings, use them rhythmically to keep out of the bassist/pianists world,
use them more readily when playing solo, etc. They can still be useful but
you do have to be aware of what range of the instrument youre in.
Part Three Open Voicings, Top 4 Strings
The following arent many chords, but they do take some work to
memorize. Memorize them even if you cant play them well. Its better to
have them all in your head, than to be able to play 8 or 10 of them but
have the rest of them be in the book, unknown, as a potential resource
for another time.
If you can get them into a song, great. In the meantime just memorize
Lets begin in the key of F. First the II chord or Gm7:
Its important to know where you are in these voicings. In each one you
should know that their lowest note is the 7
, root, 3
and fth
respectively. You should also be aware that the lead notes are root, 3
, 5

and 7
respectively. This is critical to being able to produce moving lines
in the melody or in the bass that make sense.
Finally you should know where the root is within the chord, whether its
present $as in all these examples% or not. And when I say know where
the root is, I dont mean on the low E string, where your eyes, ngers
and ears have no relationship.
Logically the II chord resolves to the V chord, C7 in our example:
Again, take note of which step of each chord is lowest and highest in the
Then, the logical resolution to the I chord, Fmaj7. Note, sometimes the
major 7
is not the best variety of I chord relative to style or coloring.
Sometimes a Maj9
or a Maj6
chord is more useful. But many such
constructions would provide a voicing identical to the m7 indicated
above, so Ill address these later.
Note with this Maj7 series $below% the rst listed $7
in the bass%, is
actually a Fmaj9. Lower the highest note by two frets and youll get a
pure inversion, though not as useful, as its comprised of two fourths.
First, just memorize these three sets as given. Then move each set to
other keys. Practice the minor inversions for Am7 and the dominant
inversions for D7 for instance. Then move to other keys, rearranging the
order of inversions to cover the most used area of the neck.
The next task is to arrange them in II!V!I series. This is actually how we
use them in songs. Being able to shift from one inversion of a Gm7 to
the next highest or lowest inversion allows us to easily move about the
neck as necessary. But we also have to resolve from chord to chord while
playing a song where one denition of good voice leading is to move
each note as little as possible. The basic building block of this kind of
activity is within the II!V!I. This happens to be cycle of fth motion.
Each chord resolves downwardly to the chord a fth below $the same
structural motion as a fourth above%.
Picking the voicing from each chord group above and playing them in
one selected area of the neck at a time, the progressions look like this:
The way these are illustrated, you will play the II followed by the V
followed by the I. The way these voicings change, only two voices move
between the II and the V and only two voices move between the V and I.
You may well have to move more ngers than that, but these are the only
aural changes heard.
The moving voices shift only a single scale!tone step. This is smooth
voice leading. Its not critical that some voices remain unchanged or
that moving voice move no more than a step. All voices can move a step
or more and still provide sonority.
Another logical exploration of these voicings, is to play them so that
rather than the closest voicing of I, for instance, you play the closest I
above. Note there is still single!step motion for three notes and a 2!step
move by a single voice:
One can insert an inversion shift between progression changes. This is
particularly helpful when youve begun to work yourself too high or low
on the neck and are running out of turf. A couple of examples:
For inversion changes, we have all voices moving two steps. The sonority
of the voicings gives context. This is the kind of thing you can do all day
long in guitar comping. But from strictly the voice!leading standpoint its
not optimum. While its important to remember were playing the guitar
specically, using endless inversions and other shifts of two or more steps
is poor voice!leading and can make our music sound disjointed.
Obviously you can move the opposite direction:
Play through the II!V!I cadence in all positions and all keys. Yeah, I
know, youre not going to do it now. But you need this stu", so put in on
the list of things to do. You dont know these chords until you can say,
Key of Eb & Fret 9 & Do it! and you can. When I was a kid I marked
these kinds of things on the faces of playing chards and dealt a random
hand to produce mini!challenges. I still have the deck.
Part Four Open Voicings, Middle 4 Strings
Now the inversions for the Major, Minor and Seventh chords for the
inside set of four strings.
This is one of those areas where the voicings are di'cult or
inappropriate. The second voicing, the Cmaj7 with the E in the bass, can
be tough to get to, and though the minor second can be lovely, it can also
be an unnecessary tension.
The third listed, Cmaj7 with the G in the bass, can be di'cult for some
people to nger even this high on the neck. I use to nger this one, from
low to high, with ngers 2314. But below about the 6
fret I simply
couldnt do it rapidly. I adapted by ngering this voicing, and similar
voicings with an interval of a fourth on the bottom, with the tip of a
single nger. Ive not seen it documented. I nger it 2214 now $thats
both strings with more!or!less the tip of the 2
nger%, and now use this
ngering it in other places where it isnt a problem, just a convenience.
The last listed above, Cmaj7 with the B in the bass, doesnt sound good.
Theres nothing wrong with the Cmaj7 with the C in the bass, but since
Im showing you ways to do all the others di"erently $below% I thought
Id give you another way to play this one too. In the end I frequently
voice these as follows when, for whatever reason, the voicings above are
The minors:
The second voicing can be tricky for that third nger. When its di'cult
I raise the D to E making it e"ectively a Dm9. Now The dominants:
Now you repeat the II!V!I progressions with all of these just as we did
before, each going to the next logical local position for the progression.
We add inversion jumps to make for more activity, or more smooth voice
leading as circumstances demand. No pretty pictures!!gure it out!
Now, in addition to shifting to the next highest or lowest inversion on
the same set of strings, you are free to play the next highest or lowest
inversion on the top set of strings as well. You can shift back and forth
from the top to the middle set of four, just as you shifted up and down
on the same set of four.
This may seem like a lot of material. It isnt. Its really quite manageable.
Ive given you, in essence, four voicings for the Major 7
, minor 7
dominant 7
chords on two sets of strings. Total voicings: 24. Plus the 4
bonus voicings.Total ngerings around 28. Please dont say thats too
much work. Its hardly anything. Play them endlessly.
Part Five Old Fingerings, New Chords
These 7th voicings are full!sounding and all 4 notes of the chord are
present. That 7
gives them personality. But still, there could be more
tension, more energy or desire to move in them. Usually this is done
with extensions and alterations. Extensions are added upper structure
notes such as the 9
, 11
, and 13
. Alterations are modications of these,
such as b9 or #11, or of the other chord tones, primarily the 5
can be raised or lowered.
Well start with extensions, as they provide an easy overlap: some of the
ngerings are identical, in every way, to ones weve already learned.
To extend a chord, we would add another chord degree to our 4!note
voicings. So, for instance a R357 becomes a R3579. But to ensure smooth
voice!leading we should avoid, when possible, shifting from 4 to 5 note
voicings. True, its easier to get away with during guitar comping than for
horn arrangements, but thats the general rule in arranging. In any case
we want to keep it to 4 voices to have lighter and more agile chord
movement, both in density of sound and playability.
So we must discard a note. Which should we discard? First: the 3
the 7
are the most important notes; they more clearly dene the chord
than others. The rule is generally to discard the root as the rst option.
Perhaps the 5
instead, if the root is problematic; for example, its the
melody or interferes with other voice!motion. If we abandon two notes,
wed consider the root and 5
rst. During this selection process we
avoid doubling any note like the plague: it almost always makes the
chord unbalanced. Of course that may be the desire if emphasis is the
So lets start with the minor 9
chord. Its just like a minor 7
, but weve
discarded the root and replaced it with the 9
. Thats usually easy to do,
since the 9
is a whole step above the root.
Find the root of each inversion of the m7 chords we learned $above% and
raise the root. If you dont know which note is the root#struggle with it!
Its good for you to gure it out. This isnt an inconvenience or a waste of
time: Its important to know the function of each note in a chord, so
that you can move each up and down as circumstances demand.
Once youve done this youll nd that each minor 7
chord, looks exactly
like the Major 7
chords we covered earlier. The ngerings are identical;
only the locations and chord names are di"erent. Additionally, if you
have a bass player, he will be underscoring the di"erences as well.
They look like, and are named like this:
Note that I left the Gm9 with the 9
in the bass alone. Its frequently
un!usable, as Ive said, but it fullls the function here. The voicings on
the inside four:
Note again that the ninth in the bass is not so very useful. Also, though
Ive indicated the Gm7 with the 3
in the bass at the end of the list, it
could have been played at the lowest position. A voicing with a 3
low, despite the fact that it doesnt sound bad, will probably be a less
than optimum selection in a real!world situation. If a bassist plays the
root below it, as seems likely, theres more possibility of too low
dissonance for a minor 3
$actually a 10th as the bass is an octave below%.
More importantly it sounds so much like a stable Cmaj7, its tough to
hear it as an extremely ambiguous Gm9.
Now well take the Major 7th chords and extend them to produce Major
chords. Just as we did with the minor 7
chords, we discard the root,
and add a 9
. Again do this with your own brain, eyes, hands and guitar:
nd the root, move it up a whole step: voila! A ninth. The chords looks
suspiciously familiar. They are the exact same structures, displaced, as
the minor 7
chords above. Here they are for both strings sets:
Unfortunately they have the same general liabilities. The ninth in the
bass is unusable, so Ive replaced it with something that sounds better
though less conveniently formulaic.
The dominant 9
chords are going to provide some new material. Again,
take the dominant 7
chords we worked with above, nd the root, raise
it a whole step. These, then, are only a little di"erent structurally. Again
the occasional oddity: on the inside 4 strings what would have been the
in bass is changed to a more close voicing with the root. If you dont
know all these ngerings youll nd them highly useful:
Bang away on these, play inversions up and down in a set of 4 strings,
and invert from set to set. Thats fun and sounds good. But again, in
most actual usage, these are a part of a progression; thats the most
important part.
Here are a few examples. Continue with these, making use of all four
groupings and add a few inversions here and there.
Dont forget#once you add 9
chords to your trick!bag theres no reason
that you cant use them in conjunction with straight 7
chords. By all
means mix and match to your hearts content.
So know we have these three more sets of chords: the m9, Maj9, and
dominant 9 chords. We got these by only learning four new chords and
shu(ing the deck with 16 of our previous 28 ngerings.
Above, weve been altering our ngerings to provide new extensions.
Now were going to alter our ngerings with alterations! The
nomenclature can be confusing, but the point is well be moving chord
tones a half step in the following 7
chords to produce additional
tensions in known chords. I should repeat: it is very important that you
see the initial 7
chord in your mind and eye, that you nd the note you
want to alter, say the 3
or 9
, you modify it and then recognize the new
chord. If you just have a snap shot of the before and after and dont
recognize them as cousins, or worse, see them as totally unrelated youve
lost some valuable musical reference points.
Minor 7b5
Some folks call this a half!diminished since it is a diminished triad,
R,b3,b5 with a b7 on top. If it had a 6
on top, it would be a diminished
chord. To add confusion some call it a diminished seventh.
Play a minor 7
chord from our collection above. Find the 5
and lower
it a half step. Youll get a rich, eager!to!move chord. Does it look
familiar? It ought to!!its the same ngering used by the dominant 9

chord. Appropriately named, then:
Dominant 7b9
Select a dominant 7
chord, nd the root. Raise it a half step. Bingo. Or,
additionally you can play the 9
chords we created above and lower the
a half!step to produce this chord. It will have the same result:
Yes, they are identical in ngering, and constant in their voicing. This
happens to be the same structure as a diminished chord. Its very
important, though, that you dont see this as just a chord that can be
moved willy!nilly all about the neck. Its certainly di'cult, but try to see
in each chord where the actual root is, in this case the C which isnt
present. Since its not sounded, it becomes even more di'cult to relate
to it. But you should, in order to be able to use logically to its fullest. The
farther one moves away from playing the roots and fths of a chord, the
more important it is to keep a conceptual identication of their implied
The middle string voicings:
Dominant 7sus4
Last in this series are the suspended chords. These guys can be very
ambiguous and can be seen as a number of chords. To construct them,
grab a dominant 7
chord, raise the 3rd a half step to a 4
and youre
done. In basic usage it is frequently played in this conguration, as a
suspended, then resolves its 4
back down a half step to the 3
moving on to the next chord.
Here they are:
Heres how a few might logically resolve.
Note also that that you can get to these 7sus4 chords from a number of
directions, thus they can be seen a number of ways. If you take any of the
m7 chords above, nd the 5
and lower it a whole step, it looks like a
7sus4, but contextually it is a m11

chord. For example:
Or you can take a major 6
chord, lower the 3
a whole step to a 9
it becomes a Major 6/9 chord. Examples:
Okay, Im cheating a little with the last example, because a 6/9 ought to
have the 3rd present#but its still operational. Same voicings, same
ngerings, but depending on what the bass note is and where you are in a
song, a completely di"erent animal.
We got there from di"erent places, weve arrived at three di"erent chord
types, the 7sus4, m11 and 6/9 chords, each representing the three basic
chord functions#and all of them have the same ngering! Theyre
modern sounding, and because of their ambiguity can be even more
So again the useful part!!the progressions. Here well use the m7b5
resolving to a 7b9, which is a frequent pairing. Then well resolve, sort of,
by taking it to a 7sus4 which itself resolves but to a dominant instead of
the expected Maj7. This then starts us moving yet again. Just a few
general examples, that should be repeated among all the chord groupings
weve covered here.
Okay, we added a lot of chords that time. Im through counting in an
attempt to show you how little memory work is involved. The most
important thing to take away from this part is that each of these voicings
can be modied in myriad ways to produce more chords, full and
substantive chords, for myriad uses. I must stress again how important
the mental and handistic processes are for absorbing this. Memorizing
the initial chords is critical, but this next phase is about memorizing the
process. Without knowing what each note of each chord is by function
$R3579%, means youve just made a mental snapshot of a grid; a shape.
Instead it should be seen as a series of components, each with a di"erent
function. No, you cant do it all the time, but you have to be able to see
them this way.
Using this approach the number of chords grows to hundreds, an
impossible number to really control easily if they are seen as wholly
unrelated arrangements of black dots. Instead see them by function rst
$m, Maj7, etc.% and secondly by note!function. After that your additional
modications will be easy, and not a process of static cut!and!paste
playing but of dynamic modication and ease of utility.