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To invert or not to invert, that is the question. (Chords)


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If I'm comping with a rhythm section, my usual technique is to move from one chord to another with the minimum number of finger-position changes. For example, moving from C in root-position, to G, I would simply slide thumb and third finger from C+E down to B+D (maybe changing third finger to second finger) leaving my pinkie on G. If the next chord is Bb, third finger holds steady, while thumb and pinkie slide down to Bb+F.


Moving from one chord to another in this "spider-like" way is actually very good practice, and an excellent way to drill chords and all their inversions into your head and into your muscle memory. It also has the very practical utility, especially in jazz comping, to enable you to move through chords rapidly -- since the changes are often going by at quite a clip.


When I'm accompanying a vocalist, I often voice chords (i.e. choose inversions) so that the vocal melody note is on top, making it easy to outline the melody as I comp. This is another good exercise, and I've found it an invaluable skill to have when I'm playing vocal auditions since I can "cue" the singer's melody when they get lost, or help them to stay on pitch.


After 40 years, I don't even think about what inversion to play, per se -- I know what my top note needs to be, and the other notes just cascade down automatically from there.


Lastly, I try to play very few root notes in my right hand - the left hand get's that job, primarily. I think it can sound a little amateurish if every chord you play always has a triad in it. If the chart calls for a C, don't just play C-E-G. Instead, play D-E-G with a C bass. Or don't play the third. Or try something else creative. If you practice leaving out the root from your voicings, you'll begin to see what chords have in-common notes, and that will lead you to fun re-harms, alternate bass/slash chords, and other interesting "reuses" for the same note clusters.

Legend '70s Compact, Jupiter-Xm, Studiologic Numa X 73






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Proof that there's no shortage of complete idiots (meaning, the guitarist the OP refers to).


First, the standard voicing is 1-5-1-3-5-1 (using the "E" shape barre chord). Sure, there's a 1-3-5 in there, but the root is tripled (above and below) and the 5 is doubled (below). Is that an inversion or not? Is the A shape an inversion? The C shape? I mean, what the hell ...


And that's considering only the major chords. Once we get into 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, what's the "1-3-5" voicing for those, on guitar?


Second, there are basically three steps to learning guitar.

1) learn first position chords

2) learn barre chords

3) learn not to play barre chords


Evidently the OP's friend is stuck on step 2.


On piano, the simplest voicings for the more complex chords are the most boring. They're useful for learning the naming conventions, but not much else. I learned a lot of my piano voicings by copying jazz guitar chord voicings.


In any case, regardless of the instrumentation, sticking to noninverted voicings isn't conducive to what we like to call "music". Legato voicings are more natural, where you do the minimal finger movements to shift between chords. Voice leading rules would be meaningless in a context of all standard voicings. Basic harmony rules such as avoiding parallel voices would be impossible to follow.


Voicing is crucial to good style, and sticking to root voicings is inimical to good style. One of the things I loathe most is jazz ensembles where each player is reading off a chart and playing the most obvious (to a beginner) voicing of every chord. This isn't music; it's an exercise. (Admittedly, it's a stage that no doubt many good musicians went through ... before they became good musicians!)


That said, there are cases where simplest is best and where root voicings are appropriate. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

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The guitarist is an idiot. Some of the best sounding chords on a guitar are open chords. That's why they have capos and partial capos, to allow more interesting chord voicing in other keys.


Its funny reading the posts on Lean On Me, its the only song our guitarist knows on piano. He uses all root position chords. I always played it with 1st inversion chords in the right hand. I think it was one of the first non-classical songs my teacher taught me back in the 70's. It was either that or House of the Rising Sun, my memory fails me that far back.

Boards: Kurzweil SP-6, Roland FA-08, VR-09, DeepMind 12

Modules: Korg Radias, Roland D-05, Bk7-m & Sonic Cell

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I invert everything to keep my hand from moving. Then, when I get bored, I move my hand up slightly and reinvert everything into that position.


After a while, it's all just a blur.

American Keyworks AK24+ Diablo (with bow), Hammond L100, Korg M3 expanded, Korg Sigma, Yamaha MM8, Yamaha SY99
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