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

You’ll see that if you look at any voice in isolation, the second voice 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 :)