It's true. My students are often incredulous when first introduced to the idea of chord inversions.
It's easiest to study this at the instrument, but I'll try to put it down in words here. Perhaps you can follow along with a hammered dulcimer in front of you. For simplicity's sake, let's use a major chord as an example. Consider the D chord mentioned above. To create a major chord, simply play the 1 3 5 of the major scale:
- Start with the first note of the D major scale. You should be on a marked D. This is the "1", also known as the "root". It's the note that names the chord we are creating.
- Now skip a note of the scale and go to the third note, aka the "3". You should be on F#.
- Now skip another note of the scale and go to the fifth note, aka the "5". You should be on A.
Now, get this radical idea. You could play those notes in a different order.
No matter how those three notes are arranged it's still the same chord! Same notes, same chord, different order. If the "root" is the lowest note played, the chord is said to be in the root position. If the root is NOT the lowest note played, the chord is said to be inverted.
So, [D F# A] is the root D chord. [F# A D] and [A D F#] are inversions of the D chord.
Here's the naming rule:
- if the root is the lowest note played, it's a root position chord
- if the third of the chord is the lowest note played, it's a 1st inversion
- if the fifth of the chord is the lowest note, it's a 2nd inversion
There are patterns that make this easier to see and put into practice on the hammered dulcimer, but that's a big topic for another day! or maybe a lesson or three with your favorite teacher.
PS: The most important thing to consider when naming a chord inversion is the lowest note played. It doesn't really matter in what order the rest of the notes fall. Also, as you begin to add more complex chords to your musical repertoire, the more notes a chord contains the more inversions are possible!