Accompaniment and Inversions
Found in: Accompaniment
Ian C., Australia
A recent thread raised the question of how and when to teach chord inversions. I’m not sure whether that question was answered in full, and in addition there were some comments made about split chords and their relationship to inversions which I thought were not necessarily correct.
1. Some previous posters seem to be suggesting that “inversion” is another way of saying “split chord”, but that’s certainly not the way I understand it!
The first inversion of a “C” chord is represented by the notes E, G, C ascending with C on top, regardless of what is played in the bass (LH). 2nd inversion is G,C,E, also regardless of bass note(s).
For me, inversions are indispensable in performance when incorporating melody with chords in the right hand, and are also often used to achieve the right tonality – and sometimes they’re just useful for ease of fingering and not jumping our hands all over the keyboard!
2. I, like Sharon and others, have to consciously refrain from playing inversions when demonstrating accompaniment pieces, and wonder if someone would be kind enough to divulge if/when they are actually taught in the SM process? Is it ACC 2, or is it just developed organically as a natural, “unthinking” process?
Rebecca S., Australia
The answer to when chord inversions is included in the teacher training is Acc 2.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Just to elaborate a little on Rebecca’s response, Accompaniment 2 is where inversions are formally presented, although you can show students the occasional inversion prior to then. For example, in Advance Australia Fair (Foundation 2), when going from Gmaj to Cmaj, I have students bring the top two notes of the G up to the next whites. I say nothing other than “here’s a different way of playing a C chord that’s easy to do and sounds good too”. I might say that I’ll explain much more about this later, but I won’t use the word ‘inversion’.
There are other times in Advance Australia Fair where you could do the same thing, but I’d err on the side of less, not more. I can understand how easy it is for an experienced player to give the student just one more, and just another, and just one last one, but that can be a slippery slope. The really important thing is that the student has become automatic with finding major triads in root position as well as the process of inheriting other chords before going down the path of inversions, otherwise everything we do with chords from there will be built on shaky foundations.
Vee S., FLordia
I casually show a student if I think they are ready. I have some teens who want to play in their church youth bands and we work on worship songs. I have a student who has had 4 years of traditional and left his teacher because the teacher would not teach him chords and Accomp. unless he finished the Hanon book and three Alfred’s books. If we are working on worship songs I see no reason not to show an easier way to get around the keyboard with inversions. Like going from major E to B major by putting the B on top and so on. The RH 5 finger is all ready on B. There is no mystery to inversions.
The notes are just played in another order. They are actually very simple.
And yes inversions have nothing to do with split chords or what is played in the base at all in my understanding.
At church I play full chords with both hands in the middle or upper end of the keyboard, and we have a bass player playing the base notes. I use inversions all the time. I even kid with students and joke about how we can play the same chord backwards and ask them if they can find another way to play it.
In Danny Boy they learn all the different chords which is some cases are harder then inversions. Why wait so long to teach such simple chording as inversions. They will use them a whole lot more then some of the chords presented in Danny Boy.
Richard C., Michigan
In the standard terminology of music theory, the term inversion when applied to chords refers to which note of the chord is in the bass. For example, a C chord with E in the bass would be described as a first-inversion C chord. Neil apparently uses inversion in a special sense in the accompaniment program, referring to the arrangement of the chord tones in the right hand considered by itself.
The inversion of an interval refers to the result of taking the bottom note of an interval and putting it on top. Example: C up to E is a major third; the inversion of this interval, E up to C, is a minor sixth.
The inversion of a melody means the result of “turning it upside down,” so that all the rising intervals become falling intervals of the same category (thirds, fourths, etc.) and vice versa. You can’t go far in J.S. Bach’s music without encountering inversions of this kind, and in fact it’s a useful compositional trick to play around with.
Sandy L., Nebraska
I too have presented inversions, casually, as Veda says. Since we are in the U.S., I chose songs from the Get America Singing Again books, rather than the song Advance Australia Fair, which is used to present inversions (without naming them as such) in Arrangements 2.
I did not use the word inversion, but just showed them that in a couple of places in a song, rather than take a big jump with the RH to the next chord, there may be another way to get the same chord notes. I didn’t really focus on whether or not we were using a 1st or 2nd inversion in each instance (especially since I wasn’t specifically teaching them what an inversion is), but just on the fact that they could play the same notes in another way, if they choose to do this in certain instances. My goal was just to present another option for them to have available. When they get to Acc. 2, they will get the full picture.
Gordon mentioned he chooses to err on the side of less, not more–consistent with all our training on dosage. I also err on the side of later not sooner. I have used this only with students who have solidly learned all of their chords and have played many, many accompaniment pieces outside of Acc. 1. For them, this is easy to see. For someone less solid on their chords, it would muddy the waters.
To me this is no different than the way Acc. Variation 1 is presented as a variation to Amazing Grace in level 1. This gives students the idea that they can change up the rhythm, and they will get more in Accompaniment Variations.
I think it’s very workable in a very simplistic way for those students who are ready for it and can use it.