Thought Lines: Inverting Lines Through Structures


Years ago, I wrote myself a little chord book to find some new chords.

I wrote out all the possible combinations of 4 different notes in one octave.

There are 165 of those. And then I organised them by inversion like this:

  • 160 of these structures grouped themselves into families of four inversions
  • Four structures repeat after two inversions
  • One structure inverts symmetrically

Then I wrote out voicings for all those structures and figured out which ones I knew and which ones I didn’t. I ignored the familiar ones and dabbled with the ones I didn’t know.

That was useful. But the really useful thing I found, and use, was to do with the inverting.


One way of looking at inversion is as a process of moving a note through a series.

For example, if my series is C, E, G, B, and I start with the note C, then the inversion would go C, E, G, B.

If I take two notes: C and G, then the inversions would go C & G, E & B, G & C, B & E.

Make sense?

I try to keep each note on the same string as it moves through the series. So I’d play the last example’s lower notes [CEGB] on the 5th string and the upper notes [GBCE] on the 4th string. That way, you can retain distinct lines, and this helps you see the inversion sequence logically.

So I’d take a structure of 1 to 6 notes (played as a chord) and move it through a series of 1 to 12 notes.

That covers all the harmonic possibilities of non-doubled structures on the guitar. By non-doubled, I mean that none of the notes in the structures are the same name, C and C for instance.

I use it as a way to put myself in a different harmonic area to explore – to find something new. And then it’s up to me to find a use for whatever I find.

Mental Workout

I do this thing with lines as a little mental and physical exercise.

Take a 2, 3 or 4 note structure and move it through a series of more notes than the structure is [3, 4, or 5, for example].

For example, take this structure CGBE, which is a super common voicing for C∆, and move it through this series: C E G Ab B, which is the structure plus one extra note: Ab.

That’ll give you 5 inversions: CGBE, EAbCG, GBEAb, AbCGB, BEAbC. You’ll see that if you look at any voice in isolation, the second voice in each voicing for example, that it’ll be moving through the series CEGAbB.

The second voice runs: GAbBCE.

Be able to do that with arbitrary structures and series, on the fly.

The difficulty is in being aware of each individual line simultaneously.

Here it is in notation, with a couple of extra examples. Thought Lines

Ok, have fun with that one :)