Breakfast at Tiffany’s: First Inversion

Last week’s blog post talked about interval inversions. But not only can intervals be inverted – chords also can! How? The same way – just take the lowest note and move it up the octave. The example below shows a G major triad, consisting of the root (G), the major third (B) and the fifth (D). See how a first inversion and second inversion are formed:

Chord INversion Breakfast at Tiffany's bass line Music Theory for the Bass PLayer

Since this would sound muddy if you play the notes at the same time in a such a low register, here are the above chords broken up note by note (“arpeggiated”), with TAB for visual reference:

Chord INversion Breakfast at Tiffany's bass line Music Theory for the Bass PLayer

Check out the naming of the first inversion as G/B (spoken: “G over B”, a G triad over a low B. Same is true for the second inversion, “G over D”).

Ah, the Power of the Bass Player!

Notice the blue writing above that defines each inversion:

  • the Root position is defined as the root being the lowest note in the chord.
  • first inversion: third is lowest.
  • second inversion: fifth is lowest.

This means that no matter what the chord instruments do, we bassists – sitting usually lowest in the sonic configuration – define the inversion (or lack thereof) of the chord:

Watch the treble clef (a guitar, or piano for example) finger all sorts of combinations and orders of the G major triad, including a root position or second inversion – good luck, though, because it is us, the bass players, who define whether in the whole of the arrangement, the chords is in root position, first or second inversion. All the treble clef voicings in the following example will still sound like the first inversion because of the bass player (or the pianist’s left hand):

Chord INversion Breakfast at Tiffany's bass line Music Theory for the Bass PLayer

How does a first inversion sound?

  • The root position sounds stable.
  • The first inversion less so – it sounds like it wants to go somewhere, such as the a chord a fourth above (which it often does).
  • The second inversion has almost a bit of a “sus” chord quality to it because the lowest note and the root form the interval of a fourth. Sus is short for suspended and means the chord has less stability as it lacks a third (which is a stable sound).

Example for the Bass, please!

I doubt this song by Deep Blue Something would ever have become so popular without its pretty first inversions that enhance not only the verse but also the chorus. And the guitars are in on it, too, to underscore the sound.

The chords of this song are super simple: D, G, A which is I, IV, V of D major.

verse:    ||: D | G A | D | G A :||

chorus: ||: D | A G | D | A G :||

And the song would work fine by using the chords like they are in their root positions. However, the band made one simple change and created a much more recognizable and also more interesting sounding bass line by using the first inversion of the G chord in both Verse and Chorus.

This results in:

verse:    ||: D | G/B   A | D | G/B  A :||

chorus: ||: D | A   G/B | D | A  G/B :||

The resulting bass line has fewer jumps – instead of jumping a fifth between D and G (or G and D respectively, in the chorus) you hear a – much smoother sounding – minor third followed by a whole step in the verse; this smooth transition also fits the theme of the song.

We provided a simple backing track of drums and guitar chords. It’s playing the verse four times (8 bars total) followed by the Chorus four times and this repeats. Try playing both versions of the bass line – with and without the inversion – and listen to the difference.

What other inversions could you apply? Experiment, record yourself and evaluate. You can create quite a few versions of bass lines from these 3 simple chords. Share your versions in the comments below.

Take Aways

  • Experiment with inversions!
  • In popular music, root positions are most often used. First inversions are more common than second ones. First inversions have a less stable sound than root position chords, sound somewhat forward moving (at least this is how we perceive them today. this wasn’t always so).
  • Listen to the backing track and memorize the sound of the first inversion G chord. Listen for it in other songs and share examples where you find them.

Breakfast at Tiffany's inversions Bass bass line music theory

Download the PDF:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s bass & chords (1)

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In the News (and at The Empress)

Vallejo Empress Theatre Nick Phillips gig


One of the most rewarding activities as a musician – is collaborating! Creating, together, something from nothing, sharing a vision, doing the work, the practicing, the promoting, the charts, the setlists, the invite lists… I am proud and happy to introduce to you my new project with trumpeter and GRAMMY® recognized Producer Nick Phillips. Trumpet and bass are putting the show together, but we perform as a quartet.

Vallejo Times-Herald Article

Rich Freedman wrote a great article which appeared in today’s Vallejo Times Herald – read to find out a bit more.

The article is in support of our upcoming show at the beautiful and historic Empress Theatre in Vallejo. Beautiful trumpet player and multi-Grammy Award recognized producer Nick Phillips instigated this project a while ago and I am very excited about it! It allows me to do a lot of grooving and also a bit of the beloved bass chording/solo work (in beautiful collaboration with Nick). Great to be part of an absolutely kicking rhythm section with John R Burr on piano and David Rokeach on drums. Nick has contributed several beautiful originals and reharmonizations of known tunes, we are doing a ballad of mine and there may be some solo bass, too. The overarching vibe is one of lush melodies with funky and groovy takes of some well-known standards. You may not recognize them right away, though 😉

I leave you with this quote from Rich’s article (which really made me laugh because me and winter sports are truly not a good match):

It’s too bad they didn’t hand out medals for bass players at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Hometown hero Ariane Cap would have surely snagged the gold.

If you are local – please join us at the Empress Theater in Vallejo, on April 28th, at 6.00PM.

Produced by the Vallejo Jazz Society.

Click the picture below for info and tickets.

The Vallejo Empress Theatre



Turned Around on Inversions?

Interval INversions Ariane Cap

Inversions often cause some confusion, so here is a breakdown. Several music theory items can be inverted. Let’s start here with…

Interval Inversions

Intervals can ascend or descend. If you play a fifth ascending and then play that backwards – that is NOT an inversion, though many think that. Inversions are important to grasp for the bassist. Let’s clear this up.

This is an ascending fifth:

C ascending to G.

Okay, what goes up, must come down, so G-C, then, is a descending fifth:

interval inversion ariane cap music theory for the bass player

G descending to C

On the bass, this fifth looks, for example, like this:

I call this fingering a “2 by 1” – two frets up, up one string. (There are other ways to finger fifths as well, but for now, let’s just look at this one:)
purple: ascending; orange: descending. Play it on your bass and hear it. This is NOT an inversion. This is just playing an interval in both directions.

interval inversion ariane cap music theory for the bass player

So, if I descend by a fifth from C, I land on an F. So, C-F is a fifth, specifically a descending fifth.

The latter often causes confusion – wait, didn’t you just say the fifth of C is G, not F?

Yes, the fifth of C, as in “the fifth scale degree”. Or as in “C-G ascending”.

But if you descend from C by a fifth, you land on an F, not a G:

interval inversion ariane cap music theory for the bass playerInterval inversion ariane cap music theory for the bass player

And yes, if you are grooving and going to the V chord, the chord built on F is not the chord you want. This is one reason why you must know these things. So, when you want to descend and land on the same note as when ascending (G) you need to desscend by a fourth to reach that fifth scale degree:

Interval Inversions Music THeory for the Bass Player

In other words: If I want to reach a G from a C, I have two options

(there are more if you add in octaves, but for now let’s focus on these two):

  • Either ascend by a fifth.
  • Or descend by a fourth.
  • In either event, you are playing C to G.

The Take Aways so Far:

  • Inversion is not turning the direction of the interval around.
  • Always be specific whether you are asking for an interval to ascend or descend.

 What, then, is an Inversion?

You already know, that if you want to get from C to G you can achieve that by playing a fifth ascending from C to a G above or by descending by a fourth from said C to the G below.

In this case, you are inverting the interval, and the best way to think about this is to realize that now there are three notes involved, one C and two Gs an octave apart. This is different to what we did at first, ie, just playing two notes ascending and descending.

Music Math Defies the Odds

Check out the graph below. An inversion of interval X is the interval that is needed to complete the octave. The octave here is formed by the two Gs. The note in the middle, C, is a fifth from the top note and a fourth from the bottom. IE: Fourths and fifths are inversions of each other.

Which leads to the mind-blowing realization that in music 4 plus 5 equals 8 (octave).

Which does, however, make sense because we are counting the middle note (C) twice, once as part of the fifth, and once as part of the fourth. Said differently, the interval names reflect counting the notes from the root not the steps (number of half or whole steps). So I think the order of the universe is restored.

Inversion Formula

Numbers First

Take any interval and – to find its inversion – ask yourself what number is needed to complete it to 9.

Second -> Seventh.

Third -> Sixth.

Fourth -> Fifth

Tritone -> Tritone. (exactly the halfway point)

Fifth -> Fourth.

You get the idea.

Unison -> Octave.

What about major, minor, diminished, augmented?

Always the opposite.

Major third -> Minor sixth. (Example: C ascend to E=major third. E ascend to C above=minor sixth)

Major second -> Minor seventh. (Example: C ascend to Db=minor second. Db ascend to C above=major seventh)

Augmented fourth -> DIminished fifth (Example: C ascend to F#=augmented fourth. F# ascend to C above-diminished fifth)

Complete Table

In my book Music Theory for the Bass Player, find a table with all important inversions within the octave. Page 52. I pulled it for you below.

Video 43 goes with this page:

Why do you need to know this?

Because when you play grooves and want to hit certain intervals, you can create much more variety by playing interval inversions. In other words, playing your notes in different octaves. Get this under your fingers and the fretboard opens up.

Take this common blues ending for example:

  • Version on the left – the first interval ascends by a major third.
  • Version on the right – the first interval descends by its inversion (a minor sixth).

Inter val Inversions blues ending cliche music theory for the bass player


Take some of your favorite grooves and experiment with inversions. What is the effect?

To learn more and guide you through the book (including inversions) and way beyond, check out our Course, Music Theory for the Bass Player.

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course

Thunderstruck: Shedding a song Talking-Technique Style

thunderstruck AC/DC ariane Cap

Thunderstruck Technique!

Sure, learning songs is very important; at the same time, I am a big proponent of technique drills on the bass. But why not combine both worlds for a nice double whammy?

That’s what this episode of Talking Technique is about. Get ready to be thunderstruck talking-technique style, because AC/DC inspired a pretty drastic drill here!

AC/DC’s Thunderstruck opening riff becomes the focus here. And since I got so many questions and comments about that: no, it is not a hammer on/pull off situation. Many people make it that to make it easier to play. But if you listen to the record, Angus plucks every note.

To make it work on the bass, we have to change the key to make the necessary open strings available. So, if you want to try this in unison with your guitar player at band rehearsal, make sure to give em a heads up!


For a systematic Technique Workout, check out our 20 Unit Course

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course

Stop! Don’t Practice a Mistake…

Here are some tips on how to improve faster

A typical scenario:

Let’s say you are practicing a bass line to a tune and you play the first 5 bars correctly, then you stumble.

Arrgh, you think, back up a few notes and play it again, this time correctly. Cool, I got this.

So you move on.

  • Next day, same thing. First five bars awesome, bar 6 hiccup, “arrgh”, back up, redo, “Cool, I got it”, move on.
  • Next day, same thing….Lesson day, what do you guess? Well, same thing!

“But I did it correctly just yesterday!”

I do know – also from my own experience – that it is easy to think that. But the truth is, you didn’t really know the passage.

You only knew it after playing it wrong first. You practiced ineffectively in that you somehow needed that wrong note to get it right.

In essence, what happened is that you practiced the mistake! You practiced the sequence of “stumble – arrgh! – back up – go on”. This is not really knowing it. And while you hope that next time you play it you will just get it right without the stumble, experience and probability suggest that this won’t really happen; because you somehow needed to stumble first to then get it “right”.

This is problematic because we…

  • have to at some point break that pattern and stare that somewhat uncomfortable realization in the face  that you don’t really have it yet;
  • go through the process of unlearning the wrong way – which is harder than getting it right the first time!
  • and then get it right and eventually move on.

I am not the type of teacher who wags a finger at a wrong note. By all means: welcome errors, there are many reasons to do so (creative reasons, learning reasons…). What I do want to point out, though, is that this is a bad practicing habit. Once you fix habits like this you become much more effective in your practicing.

How do you fix it?

When the error happens more than twice (three times max!) – stop. Turn off the metronome or track if you are using one and take a breath. It is time to evaluate!

  • Is it a mental issue, meaning you don’t really know the right notes in the right order?

If it is a notes issue, slow things down. Play the right notes in the right order, maybe with a simplified rhythm or without a click.

  • Is it a rhythm issue?

If it is a rhythmic issue, eliminate the pitches and just examine the rhythm (tap it, clap it, count it out to figure it out, then, chant it. Get it in your system!) Then add pitches back in.

  • Is it a technique issue, meaning your fingers cannot keep up?

There are many ways how to get your tempo up to speed. I have a great program that I do with my students on how to break the speed barrier. More to come on the blog as well. In short, slowing down may not be helpful here because the mechanics of a fast run are different from the mechanics of a slower run. In order to get the hands ready, we can use targeted speed methods. Classical musicians provide some great inspiration here, too. In essence, staying relaxed is key! More on that to follow, but for now: do your permutation exercisesThey really pay off! (In our Course, Music Theory for the Bass Player, we do numerous variations on tougher and tougher permutations. Just pop in the video and play along).

  • Is it a detail, such as a phrasing issue, an articulation you can’t quite get, a slide, tap, pop or cool thing that just eludes you and in your playing you are sort of glazing over it?

I find those types of challenges the most fun. Slowing things down can really help crack the code here. Also observe yourself closely and clarify your concept of how the passage should sound. Hear it internally in as much detail as possible. Don’t glance over blind spots – you will always learn a lot when you go deeper here.

In Summary:

Don’t practice mistakes! Stop! Listen to yourself and evaluate. Isolate and break down the trouble spots.

Channel your inner Sherlock and remember that you can break down complex elements into smaller bits. And that is the ticket!

So, instead of moving on, break down the problem spot and a couple of beats before it and a couple of beats after it and isolate that section.

  • Slow it down, so you can better observe and understand the section.
  • Practice speed using targeted speed methods, so you get it up to tempo. Relax, no tension.
  • Go deep into the music, the phrasing, how you want it to sound and what you are hearing. This way you get into the nooks and crannies of technique, articulation and the groove.

Maybe at this juncture, you need a teacher to tell you exactly what is going on and how exactly to fix it – ask for help if you need it, because continuing the same error over and over while expecting a different result is obviously not working.

And by the way, if you are experiencing something similar in a band situation, do the exact same thing at rehearsal: stop, identify the trouble spot and loop the section, correctly. “Let’s just play it again” without a plan is not very effective. Cuts down rehearsal times to a fraction!

Have a look at this great blog post by Performance Psychologist and violinist Noa Kageyama, PhD.: he tells us about a scientific research that details the 8 things top practicers do differently. There is hard evidence for the above! Check out #3 through #8 and there it is

All that said, there is one place where you should not stop: and that is during the performance. That’s why I like to distinguish between “practice mode” and “performance mode”. Both are important. The above tip is for practicing mode.

Happy evaluating!

To learn how to learn in this vein, check out this course:

Music THeory for the Bass Player The Course