Chord inversions enable smooth voice leading between chords while adding variety in textures and voicings to your chord vocabulary.
A seventh chord consists of three notes–a third, fifth and chordal seventh above the bass–combined in such a manner that they form an intervallic sequence above it. Most commonly these seventh chords are achieved with figured bass.
Seventh chords follow the same conventions used to label triads; their figures represent intervals from bass note to root of chord.
A seventh chord in root position uses the third note of its foundational triad as its lowest bass note; for example, an E minor triad in root position with G as its lowest note will feature that note as its bass note; then its root and fifth notes will sound above it – this phenomenon is known as first inversion.
Contrary to triad chords, seventh chord inversions do not have to occur at root position to be considered an inversion; rather they can take any one of three forms shown below.
Identification of seventh chord inversions by their figured bass symbols is an easy process once you understand how the interval structure of each triad and inversion works. A good ear for intervals will enable this task; with practice and listening to music, your ears will only improve further over time. Though time-consuming, this investment will prove its value over time.
First inversion of a seventh chord involves stacking its root note on top of a fifth and seventh, giving rise to what is commonly known as the dominant seventh chord voicing. Chordal sevenths in first inversion are often known as 6/5 chords as they feature one note “1” being one sixth higher than another note in the bass; five and seventh notes can then be placed above this root note (and therefore above each other).
Although seventh chords can be constructed on any scale degree, those built upon dominant seventh chord scale degrees tend to be rare due to their potential threat of undermining tonic triad stability. Therefore, such chords should be treated more like dissonant seventh triads rather than seventh chords for analysis purposes.
Pianists with small hands often find it challenging to play the first inversion of a seventh chord due to having fingers that can fit over all four notes, making the first inversion more complicated than intended. As such, many pianists use “cheating” by leaving out the fifth note from this particular chord inversion.
Second inversion occurs when a seventh chord is stacked a sixth and fifth above an inverted bass note, often known as the six-four position. It provides an effective method of identifying second inversions through sound alone – particularly helpful for those taking a functional approach to relative pitch.
An E minor 7th in second inversion can be written as a G dominant seventh triad with its root and third placed above its bass note (G-B-D).
One of the best ways to learn how to identify seventh chord inversions is by practicing with a piano, as this will develop your ear for hearing them and recognizing them by sound. After practicing with simple seventh chords for a while, move onto more complex seventh chords; over time you should be able to identify even complex inversions by sound. Just take it slow – practice each inversion gradually until you develop confidence to identify any seventh chord inversion!
Seventh chords differ from triads in that they can take multiple inversions. Seventh chords may exist in any of their positions – bass note being one way of identifying inversion of seventh chord. To identify inversion of a seventh chord, start by considering its bass note as this can give an indication of possible inversions.
C Major 7 chords have three inversions; Cm7 in the bass register and G as the lowest note when played higher up the scale, in second inversion; this chord may also be known as Cm7/B chord.
As with triads, seventh chords may be named using Roman numerals and open noteheads. However, one should bear in mind that seventh chords differ in spelling because they contain an extra note that stacks on top of the root chord – thus being called seventy sixth chords.
A sixth is the lowest note in a seventh chord and needs to be higher than its bass note for proper tuning. To do this, upper notes must be raised by an octave.