Inversion - chord identification

How do you identify a chord when it is no longer built off of the root.

When learning block chords, you begin to identify the chord by the “thumb” in the right hand (C# Maj 7 begins with C# etc)

However once you invert chords things get blurry.

For instance: first inversion of C#Maj7 is E#-G#-B#-C#. However, out of the context of “inversion practice”, this chord looks like F-Ab-C-Db. My brains sees this and thinks “oh! this is an F minor chord” when it is not.

How does one break this habit? Is it just over time with more practice? Is it a lack of ear training? Please advise.

considering triplets :

one basic exercice could be arpeggios

sorry, but it is a simple exercice from “classical” piano class :

  • normal arpeggios from the root with 2 hands (beginning on the root, then on the 3rd, then on the 5th
  • one hand doing arpeggio beginning by the 3rd and the other beginning by the root
  • one hand doing arpeggio beginning by the 5th and the other beginning by the root
  • then alternate, then chose one note of the triplet to begin on one hand, an another note to begin with an another
  • then… play an arpeggio with one hand and play notes from the triplet randomly on the keyboard with the other hand

so… with this, you can consider that a chord is made with 3 elements, no matter where it is played.

of course it can be done with 7th or more notes…

but… then… it is more complicated for the brain… Hayden can switch easily from one name of a chord to an another name depending of the harmony.

what is tricky is allways to switch from one consideration to an another depending on the goal)))


Welcome to the community area Chelsia!

Very good question.

Rootless voicings are a difficult area to grasp for new jazz students.

As @marc421812 correctly says: inverting a chord does not change the chord, it’s simply another way to ‘voice’ the chord.

One of the things that makes jazz piano so creative and individual is that we have the freedom to play chords in any inversion, we can leave notes out, we can add notes in to the chord, we can even change the chord completely which is called ‘reharmonisation’.

As jazz musicians we have a lot of creative freedom to interpret chords, progressions, & tunes.

To give you an extreme example. If every jazz musician played F-7 as F-Ab-C-Eb, then everyones music would sound the same.

There is a potentially infinite amount of ways that we can voice an F-7 chord, based on the kind of sound we want to create, and this is exactly what makes jazz music so interesting, unique, and exciting… to me at least! :grinning:

I’d recommend that you check out this post:

I have received many similar questions from students over the years, and I have put all of the information into that post.

If you do have any further questions be sure to let us know and we are here to help :+1:

Thank you! I will try appregiating each chord as you mentioned!

Ok thank you so much! Cant wait to check it out.


I am classically trained but all 12 years of my training was essentially ‘read memorize repeat’ then ‘read harder music! Now memorize repeat etc’

I now write/produce songs professionally but I am 98% of the time relying on my EAR/natural talent. I definitely understand ‘voicing chords creatively’ however a lot of times I’m still unsure of WHAT the chord is I’m playing. I’m voicing based on what I hear and feel, not with what I KNOW from a strong theory or technical basis.

So this is why I am here :slight_smile: excited to learn!

That sounds exciting for you Chelsia.

I think you will really enjoy understanding the theoretical underpinnings of what you are currently playing. I also think it will be a relatively quick process for you with lots of “ah-ha” moments where it suddenly ‘clicks’.

Hopefully you will also learn some new theory to add to your compositions too :sunglasses:

If you have any questions with the lessons or materials, post them here in the forum and we will be happy to assist.


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