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 method:

  1. Pick any barre chord shape that you already know and use.
  2. Play it anywhere on the neck i.e., pick your own key center.
  3. Identify the notes your fingers are playing (E, A, C#, etc).
  4. 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 first.

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.

fig 4.1

Copyright Dale Churchett © 1995. All Rights Reserved.