There are three steps in this method, which repeat.
1. Start with a simple C major triad in root position. The right hand plays, using fingers 1, 3, 5. Hold the notes down.
2. Repeat the thumb note. It’s a white-key C. Take just that one note off, but play and hold the next C up the keyboard with your left hand. (Any finger will do.)
You will know you have found the right note because it will look and sound the same as the bottom note you just played.
3. Next, you take those three notes over with your right hand using fingers 1, 2, 5. The bottom note has gone up an octave: the root position chord has ‘inverted’ into a first inversion chord. Play the first inversion chord with your right hand.
The next audio clip covers Steps 1, 2 and 3 all rolled into one:
Repeat steps 1, 2, 3 to climb up from the first inversion chord to the second inversion chord.
Repeat the three steps to climb up from the second inversion chord to the root position chord, an octave above where you started.
This is what you’ve done:
Continue the three-step process until you get back down to the starting root position chord.
This is what the whole downward movement looks and sounds like:
You can see in this diagram how the inversions we have used in this exercise overlap.
Root position chords – the ones we usually learn first and can usually always find – are not the nicest-sounding chords. First inversion chords, with the root at the top, are a lot more useful. Second inversion chords, with the third at the top, sound much nicer.
It’s annoying being sent back to First Grade, but using this ‘baby’ two-hand method will teach you to locate your inversions without mistakes and without stress far faster than trial and error and ‘just hoping’.
The Musicarta Keyboard Chord Generator shows you how to find all the major and minor keyboard chords. Open the visual Chord Generator file to do the following exercises and go to the Chord Generator page for an explanation and more ways of getting the most out of this great tool.
1. Four flips up and down
Repeat the pattern exactly as you played it here from any Group One root position (circles) chord in the Chord Generator. The following audio file plays the pattern in A minor, then continuously in G major. Practice until you can play along.
2. One flip up, one flip down
Play the root position chord (circles) and flip the chord upwards into first inversion (triangles) and downwards into second inversion (squares) using the two-handed method you’ve just learned.
You’re trying to become as sure about the octave jump and as slick in taking over the three notes with the right hand as possible.
Make sure you repeat to yourself over and over what chord it is you’re rehearsing as you do these exercises. That way you tie the sight of the keys to the chord’s name in your head.
3. Repeat the above exercises with Group Two chords, and so on. Start from any inversion – circles, squares or triangles. The following audio file plays ‘Four flips up and down’ from root position (circles) in D major, then in C minor. Practice until you can play along.
Your next step is practicing finding the inversions using just the right hand. Click through to Keyboard Chords - Finding Inversions 2 (module in preparation) for a methodical approach that's bound to produce results.
Then there's a brain-twister called 'Three Chord Tones in Three Places' (Keyboard Chords - Finding Inversions 3 - click through here) which will help you recognize those inversions inside out, back to front and upside down! Get some perspective on what it's like to really see the chords in the keys! Click through and bookmark it for your next study session.
Keyboard chords – Finding Inversions is a Musicarta.com web page. To explore similar keyboard chords explanations and exercises, click up to the Musicarta Chords Division home page.
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The Pyramids Variations is Musicarta’s flagship series of free online piano lessons, and if you want to make a structured start to reviving or developing your keyboard skills, that's the place to start. Visit the Pyramids Variations covering page for an introduction to the series.