First, second and third inversions
When the bass sings or plays the bottom note of a chord (such as the C of a C-Major triad), it is said to be in the “root position.” If the bass sounds the third instead (such as the E in a C Major chord), this is called the “first inversion.” If the bass sounds the fifth (such as the G in a C chord), this is the “second inversion.” If the bass sounds the seventh (such as Bb in a C7 chord), this is the “third inversion.”
Inversions do complex and interesting things with the overtones, and are a bit unstable harmonically. The individual notes of a chord in the root position send up overtones that blend nicely with the notes that are being sounded in the chord (such as the C-Major chord of C-E-G, where C’s overtones include E and G). But if you play that chord in the first inversion (E-G-C), the overtones of the bass note E are G# and B! The bass tone of the second inversion chord (G-C-E) creates the overtones B and D. Listen to the sounds of a C Major chord in its root, first and second inversions and you will hear that the inverted chords sound like they need resolution… and that’s their main value, to keep the ear following along and looking for resolution. Because the inversions are a bit unstable, rules are created to preserve the ear’s ability to follow your harmonic journey. You can break more rules when you’re in root position and still get away with it!….
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