I remember the day I suddenly “got” the Grade 1 chords I was learning for my piano exam. How old was I? Probably about 7 or 8 years old.
(Oh how I hate it when the children say “I don’t ‘get’ it”. I have to restrain myself from saying “There’s nothing to ‘get’ or to ‘fetch’ or to ‘bring’ ” which might relieve my irritation but is not conducive to the child’s learning!) Anyway, hopefully, you will “get” this…
Here is the chord of C major, written out in root position, 1st inversion and second inversion. Although it is in the treble clef, I have fingered it for the left hand, because this post is all about left hand chords.
The “stretch”, if it is needed, always happens next to your thumb.
Root position – the technical name for having the letter name of the chord at the bottom, was, to my youthful mind, “nice and sensible” 5 3 1
First Inversion – the technical name for when you move the root to the top of the chord so that what was the middle note is now at the bottom had 5 3 stretch to 1 (the root/letter name, now at the top)
Second Inversion – the technical name for when you have the root (letter name) of the chord in the middle, now uses the fingering 5 2 (on the root/letter name) stretch to 1
I realised, even at that tender age, that once I understood the pattern, I never had to learn another left hand chord shape again (at least, as far as Grade 1 piano was concerned). All I had to do was make sure I could remember the patterns and ignore the notes on the piano. It worked like a charm. My piano teacher was happy, and therefore I was happy.(You upset my piano teacher at your peril…)
Root position of any chord: put your little finger on the letter-name, and arrange your fingers neatly over the notes. Now add third and fifth fingers. Brilliant.
To play the chord of “anything” in 1st inversion, put your thumb on the anything, stretch your third finger one note and “plonk your fifth finger where it ought to go”, leaving a “space” for your unused fourth finger (this is so much harder to explain than to do!)
To to play the chord of “anything” in 2nd inversion, point to the “anything”, stretch out your thumb one note and plonk your little finger down where it should be.
I should add that this method assumes you are only using “white” notes, so some chords, C, F G will be major, some will be minor (D E and A) and one will sound most bizarre (B). Explanations for this most mysterious mystery will follow in due course!