C minor chord: inversions explained

Piano Blog by Skoove – Piano Practice Tips

C minor chords are complex, sad, and emotional chords, if you know how to use them correctly. This article teaches you how to invert your c minor chords, so you can play them all over the keyboard. Knowing how to take a C minor chord from its root position and change the chord’s position relative to the lowest note so that you can play it in other areas of the keyboard, or play it with two hands is one of the best and easiest skills to learn on the instrument, so that you can change your entire knowledge of expression on the instrument. 

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What is the C minor chord?

A C minor chord is something the pianists have been playing since the beginning of the piano. It is one of the extended chords that come once you have learnt how to play and keys other than a natural minor, or the relative minor natural of a different key that you have already learnt, like D minor or something with other root notes. 

Once you understand how to play this chord, you will be able to quickly change all the positions of these three notes. We start by looking at the standard form of C major in trying to understand how to change a C major chord into a C minor chord. We don’t need to use Roman numerals, or any scary music theory to do this. 

We use our suggested finger positions for C major, and all that we do is change the third of the chord down by a half step period. This allows us to to quickly change any type of major chord into its relative type of minor chord. This works also with G major, D major, or any chord on any instrument, all that you need to do is change the third down half step.

The notes in a C minor chord

The notes in a C minor chord or just like the notes in a C major chord just with one alteration. This alteration is called lowering the third and by lowering the third you change the relationship from the root note to the middle note of the chord. Though moving one note by one half step seems like it wouldn’t make that big of a difference, it actually makes a huge difference and completely changes the identification and sound of the chord. The notes are as follows: 

C Eb G

Any time that you see these 3 notes together even without hearing an audio demonstration you can be sure that the chords is C minor. Once you are comfortable with recognizing these three notes, you can go on to break the notes up between two hands or to play it in a different arrangement, or inversion. 

How to identify the C minor chord on piano

To start identifying a C major chord on the piano, you need to find first the root note. All of the chords that you play on piano will have a root note. C minor has 3 notes in it. Pay attention to finding the black Eb key, which is very different and distinctive from the E natural used in a C major key. This allows you to pay attention and recognize the chord immediately, and if you’re playing the piano you can tell the difference just by feel. Be cautious and aware of how your hand sits differently on the piano, with one note elevated above the white keys. This feeling is much easier to tell the difference between keys, because you can literally feel how your hands are different, like when sitting on a computer keyboard and you can feel for the knobs on home-row, allowing you to type without looking at your fingers. Your eyes are not the best way how to play piano, and learning to recognize the notes of C minor chord without looking at it, keeps you from needing to pay attention with your eyesight. This will improve your playing when you are looking at sheet music, playing on stage, or communicating with others or waiting for a queue. You must learn to play the piano by feel, with your hands, instead of only by using your eyesight. 

C minor piano chord finger positions

The finger positions for a c minor chord will be exactly the same as a C major chord. The great thing about this is that all of your practicing playing C major arpeggios, piano chord progressions, and inversions Will benefit you learning how to play this as long as you think about what the two chords have in common rather than learning an entirely new concept. It  is always much easier to learn a new concept by building on information that you already have instead of creating an entirely new musical idea. the chord finger positions will be exactly the same except for the third. The finger that plays the third will be on a black key E-flat. make sure that you can feel the elevated black key and push your fingers further into the keyboard so that you can reach the black key easier. Oftentimes beginning pianists will hang their fingers all the way off of the piano.  instead push your fingers into the key bed and feel the raised height of the extra key and let that guide your hand.

C minor chord inversions 

Chord inversions are when we take the chord shape or triad and rotate it, but when they are expressed in sheet music or on a chord chart we often will see a different symbol. The symbol we see will be the name of the chord, indication of whether they are minor and major chords, and then a separate note written underneath in order to express whether it is written in first inversion or second inversion. These are common in a G major chord progression on piano. 

However, unless you are playing extremely old classical music, the piano chord inversions will not be written out indicating which inversion it is written in, instead it will be written that the lowest tone will be a note inside the chord. It is up to you to learn to recognize whether the note underneath the inversion is indicating if the chord is in first inversion or second inversion, but it will very rarely be indicated by the chords in cm, or the chords in C major, the key or anywhere else. Often a G major chord progression piano written in music notation can be vague and you will be expected to understand how to play piano, and all of the inversions whenever you are needed to play them. 

Root position Cm chord piano or C minor triads are going to always be spelled like above, C Eb G, with the root of the chord in its lowest position directly underneath the other notes in the chord. Once that is set correctly we can then begin the process to understand how chord inversions work, and how to activate this simple concept and spread its influence across all of our other playing on the instrument. 

Cm – Root position

When we say that something is in root position we mean that the lowest note of the chord is on the bottom. Because we know that the lowest  no is on the bottom of the cord and it is spelt correctly, we know that the root of the chord is also on the bottom period this is called being in root position, this is the standard position for what someone means when you play play a chord off of sheet music or after being instructed by another musician. once you can comfortably play this C minor chord in root position then you can move on to rotating the Triad and playing inversions.

Cm/Eb – First inversion

The first inversion is for whenever a chord is underneath the third of the chord, and the root is instead placed on the top of the chord, making sure to keep the fingers together. You might notice that the first inversion of a minor chord does not sound quite as strong as root position. This is because the distance between the third and fifth has been altered, and is now lower than it is in a major chord, which is actually a major third interval. This can be very tricky to beginner ears, making sure that you are always hearing the minor chord you intend to play, from a chord chart or sheet music. Be careful because as the chords start to rotate many of the stretches will become unplayable for each hand unless the fingering changes. The fingerings for the left and right hand are different for each inversion.

Cm/G – Second inversion

The second inversion is for when the 5th of the chord is placed on the bottom and the top of the chord is occupied by the third. This inversion is called second inversion, because it continues the rotation as expressed by the first inversion. This is often considered the strongest of the inversions because the fifth below the root creates a very full and rich sound that is powerful and strong. When using the second inversion on a minor chord, be careful that the top note is the flat third; it can be very tempting to revert to playing the normal version and forget that the note has been altered.

Chords in the key of C minor

The same chords that are in the key of C minor or actually in the key of E flat major, because they are relatives. The fact that they are relative does not make the chords any less impactful or beautiful. Playing in a minor key can be very tricky for beginners because the 5th chord in a minor key is actually minor unless adjusted or changed by an accidental. 

The chords in the key of C minor are: 

C minor 

D Diminished

Eb major

F minor

G minor

Ab major

Bb major

C minor chord piano progressions

Chord progressions in a minor key are quite different from chord progressions in a major key. The reason why they are different is because the order of chords is different in a minor key than in a major key. This means that a lot of your common chord progression formulas will not work all of a sudden or they will sound different than you expected them to. Sometimes this is not a bad thing full stop because maybe you would prefer to have a unique sound or differentiate between different songs. These are written with Roman numerals and chord progressions. The Roman numerals allow for musicians to capitalize a number which allows musicians to play a “one” chord but make it minor, instead of always being major by default. Some of the most common C minor chord progressions piano are:

i-VI-III-VII – Cm Ab Eb Bb
i- iv-i-VI-V7-i – Cm Fm Cm Ab G7 Cm
i-iv-v – Cm Fm G7
i-VI-III-iv – Cm Ab Eb Fm

The C minor triad

The Cm chord is actually the same name that we give to a C minor chord. The reason why we call it a triad is because it has 3 notes in it. These 3 notes combine to make a chord full stop:  when someone says the word triad they are talking about a chord that only has 3 notes in it. For the purpose of this article and most of your music playing, when someone says a C minor chord they are referring to a Cm chord piano. Cm chord progressions also refer to C minor triads. If you read about a C minor 7th chord, C minor 6 chord, or a Cm 11 chord, that is a completely different chord type and chord quality than a C minor triad is, on top of the fact that a C minor 7th has 4 notes in it, which is why it has a different name than a triad. These chords are often considered jazz chords on piano. 

Play popular songs with the C minor chord

There are a lot fewer songs that use a C minor chord but you can look out for songs in the key of E flat or in the key of C minor. Check out the below examples to master playing the chord on piano.

Game of Thrones – Theme

Very few TV shows have such an incredible theme song as the Game of Thrones theme. The reason being is that it starts with a huge root position C minor chord that is arpeggiated and slowly transitions into the epic theme that we know and love. Play it confidently and quickly and pay attention to how splitting the cord up between two hands increases the way that the music sounds. 

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Debussy – Clair de Lune

There are not many C minor piano chords in this song but when they happen it is extra beautiful. You need to look out for when the G natural is played because the key of Clair de Lune is actually D flat major. Find the natural sign on the G and listen to how impactful the C minor chord is. 

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Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata

The C minor chord in Moonlight Sonata appears in the beginning while the base is descending past the A flat. It actually appears in an inversion with C minor on piano over the note g natural. Listen for how this chord in the second inversion feels powerful and not immediately sad. Second inversion minor chords are not as innately tragic as root position minor chords because of the way that the intervals are stacked.

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C minor conclusions 

Learning how to play a C minor chord is one of the first steps to becoming a brilliant pianist. Once you have mastered changing a C major chord into a C minor chord you can apply this theory to all other positions on the piano and double the amount of chords that you know and can play instinctively. With your Skoove free trial you’ll be able to play all of your different C minor chords, and play songs that are including interesting minor chord progressions with their built in metronome! 

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Author of this blog post:


Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.

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