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Inversions are especially useful if you're a solo guitarist looking to make your part more interesting. One of the first things to embellish is the bass line. Playing roots for all the chords in the progression is a safe but boring option. Roots are certainly the most stable and strong tones to underpin a progression, and most of the time that is what you will want to be hearing. But, there are times when you might want to hear a line in the bass that leads into the next chord. More often than not, it will be a different inversion that will do the trick. For example, you're playing a tune in the key of D and you're playing the D chord; the chord coming up is G, so you play half a measure of D, then you play half a measure of D/F#, which is the second inversion of D. That F# note in the bass is one semitone lower than G, the root of the next chord, and is known as the 'leading tone'. When we hear that F#, we really want it to resolve up one more semitone to the G, which is, of course, what happens when we change to the G chord.

Slash chords and Inversions



Slash chords - First and second inversions
6:00 min video.


Slash chords - other flavors
6:20 min video.
 

Slash chords are chords that use a note other than their root as bass note and get their scary name from the forward slash that appears in their name. As we have learned, chords require at least three notes to qualify as chords and those notes are the Root, third and fifth (1-3-5) of their scale.

The most common, and most stable sounding, way of playing chords is to use the root as the lowest note. But, it doesn't have to be the root, the third and fifth can also be used. These variations are called inversions and can be written into the chord progression as slash chords.

chord formula

I know ... more confusing gobbledegook. The good thing about guitars is that you don't need to be conscious of all these numbers and letters. Once you know the various shapes for these chords, you can just move them up or down the fretboard to find all the others and never have to worry about the details. Remember that for these first and second inversion chords, you can usually play them by holding the full shape and leaving some stings out.

For example, an E/B (which is an E chord played over its 5) can be played by omitting the bass string in an open E chord. It therefore follows that any other major chord played over its 5 can be found by omitting the bass string in all the E form barre chords. Here are some shapes, but there are many more ways to play inversions, in fact the whole fretboard is a patchwork quilt of inversions once you know how and where to look.

 
Power chord

This is the shape for a major chord played over its 5, a second inversion. As you can see, it's just the E form barre chord with the bass string muted. You probably won't hear much difference in sound from a full chord, but in the context of a moving bass line, it works well.

For the chords: E/B, F/C, G/D, A/E, B/F#, C/G, D/A and F#/C#, G#/D#, A#/F, C#/G# and D#/A#

Power chord

This is the same as above only this time it's the A form barre chord we're working with. Once again, the string that has the root has been muted. The low note is now the 5 of the chord, not the root.

For the chords: E/B, F/C, G/D, A/E, B/F#, C/G, D/A and F#/C# G#/D#, A#/F, C#/G# and D#/A#

Power chord

This is the movable shape for a chord played with its third as bass note instead of the root, or a first inversion. Here you need to avoid playing or strumming strings 1 and 6.

For the chords: E/G#, F/A, G/B, A/C#, B/E, C/E, D/F# and F#/A#, G#/C, A#/D, C#/F and D#/G

Power chord

Here is the movable D form shape for a first inversion. You need to mute, or avoid playing, those two bass strings.

For the chords: E/G#, F/A, G/B, A/C#, B/E, C/E, D/F# and F#/A#, G#/C, A#/D, C#/F and D#/G