Learning to identify inversions quickly is very helpful for reading. Inversions, along with intervals, are two of the music theory items I drill my students on the most, since they really help students to sight-read much more effectively. Here is how I introduce inversions to my students for the first time:
Start with learning the shapes each inversion makes. I spend a lot of time working with my students to identify root position, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion chords away from the staff using flash cards.
- Root position chords look like a snowman, and the root is at the bottom, just like the roots of a tree are at the bottom.
- 1st inversion chords have one note separate from the others at the top of chord. This top note is the root.
- 2nd inversion chords have two notes together at the top of the chord. The second note down (2nd inversion--get it?) is the root.
Learn the fingering that goes with each chord shape. Root position is easy, but the inversions can be a bit tricky because the fingering is different in each hand. I remind students that they should always have their four fingers next to each other on the keys, with the thumb stretching away from the fingers, since this fits the natural shape of our hands. Drill students on correct fingering using flash cards and tapping the finger numbers on the closed piano lid.
Quickly read chords on the staff by identifying the shape and name of the bottom note only. When students see a chord, I ask them to identify the inversion and name the bottom note of the chord; from that they should be able to quickly play the chord on the piano. If the chord contains sharps or flats, find the shape on the white keys first, then add in the sharps or flats on the appropriate notes. I have a free chord inversion worksheet here (in the “free stuff” section of my website) that is perfect for giving students practice with quickly identifying and playing chords on the piano.
Give students a reason for learning to play all these inversions! Repertoire featuring chords and inversions is a great way to help students see the importance of learning to quickly read and play these patterns. Most method books contain a few songs, but I have written several more just to help my students practice this skill! Below are a few of my favorites, all at the early intermediate level:
Looking for something more familiar? My arrangement of "The Sound of Silence" features inversions and is a great example how they are often used to "fill" a piece with a fancy sound. This legal arrangement is made possible through Sheet Music Plus's "ArrangeMe" program. Find the sheet music HERE.