Creating Chord Inversions and
Understanding Chord Voicings
You will no doubt be using many forms of barre chords in your rhythm
playing, so the concept of moving shapes around the fretboard will not
be alien to you. You may, however, have learned them parrot-fashion
and know only that a certain shape will give a certain sound if you
put it in a certain place. This is fine and straightforward and serves
countless numbers of players very well, but think how much more
rounded your knowledge would be if you could come up with your own
version of any chord.
When you are playing with several instruments, chord voicings can
clash even though everyone may be playing the same chord with the
same notes. An in-depth understanding of chord construction and the
fretboard will allow you to access many different ways of playing
the same chord without referring to chord books or charts.
To improve your knowledge of chord voicings, try out the following
- Pick any barre chord shape that you already know and use.
- Play it anywhere on the neck i.e., pick your own key center.
- Identify the notes your fingers are playing (E, A, C#, etc).
- Identify the intervals your fingers are playing
(I, V, III, I etc).
What you have just done in step 4 is work out the chord voicing or
inversion. If you had used the standard major chord barre shape
(Fig 4.1), you will have this as the chord voicing:
I, V, I, III, V, I
As an exercise, choose a different chord shape for the chord you
have just played and repeat steps 3 and 4 from the previous example.
You may find that the chord voicing will be different from the
Now try to create a new voicing by rearranging the order of the
interval e.g., V, III, I, III. You can double up any of the notes
used in the voicing to give a different effect, but you will still
be creating the same chord that you started with. The beauty of being
able to use alternate chord voicings dramatically increases the possibilities
for creating interesting and original compositions.