What is the E chord?
In music theory, usually the term E chord refers to the E major triad chord. There is also the E minor triad chord, which is covered in an other post. Triad chords are three notes played together to create a harmonic sound.
How to build the E Chord?
The E chord, here the E major triad chord can be derived from the E major scale. It consists of the following notes:
E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D# – E
(do you note the alphabet in there? ABCDEFG…)
In sheet music notation, it looks like this:
The fundamental triad chords are built from the first, the third and the fifth note of the scale, so the formula is:
1 – 3 – 5
If we do that, we get the so called root position of the E major triad chord. It consits of the notes
E – G# – B
That’s the most basic structure of the E chord.
You can see the sheet music notation of the E chord in the following picture:
How to play the E chord on a piano keyboard? The picture below shows what keys to play:
The inversions of the E chord
Now, we will have a look at the inversions of the E chord. Look at this article about inversions in general.
In the root position of the E major triad chord, the root, the E, is the lowest note. It is the fundament of the chord. Though the sound is very final. If a piece, a song or an opera would end with the root note in the bass as the lowest note, you would in general be very satisfied with the sound of the final chord. It satifies the expectation of the listener for a final chord. It can stand on its own and does not need to move on to another chord. In the root position, the third G# is in the middle between the root E and the fifth B. It adds the “major” color to the chord and acts as a spice between the main note E and its partner B. The root E and the fifth B construct the main frame of the chord (like a main dish) and the G# is hidden in between as spice, which you would add sparingly. That means, in terms of velocity or dynamics and volume, that the root should be loudest, the fifth comes second and the third G# should be the most gentle note.
The first inversion of the chord is constructed via flipping the lower note (the root E) up one octave. So you will get from bottom top: G# – B – E.
In terms of sheet music it looks like this:
In the picture, you can see the chord in the upper section, the treble clef stave corresponding to the right hand of the piano. The lower section with the bass clef adds a bass note E, which strictly is not part of the chord in the right hand. But I added it for convenience. Note that we have 4 sharp accidentals at the beginning of the bar because of the E major scale requires them. That means, in the E major scale the F is transformed to F#, the C is transformed to C#, the G is transformed to G# and the D is transformed to D#. In our chord here, we only have a G-note as the lowest note in the right hand, which then is transformed to G#. You may notice that the accidental for the G is typed one octave higher, but it applies to all octaves if it is typed at the beginning of a stave. If it is printed directly in front of the note within a line of sheet music, it only is applied to the notes in that bar in that octave.
Now we have the root as the top note, meaning we can use this inversion, when the melody is currently coincident with the root note. The fact that the third G# is now the lowest note has a special meaning and can be used in a certain way:
If you think for a moment about the A major scale, G# would be its leading tone. It leads to A, because the distance between G# and A is just a semitone and G# is the 7th tone in the A major scale. So for our ears, hearing a G# in an E chord, which would also be the dominant function of A (if A was the key and root of our song or recitativ), suggests going to an A chord next. Therefore, the first inversion with the third note as the lowest note has a strong function for leading to the next chord (here E to A). If you play an E major chord in 1st inversion and after that an A major chord in root position, you actually will complete the last two steps of the A major scale (G# -> A). So you will satisfy the expectations of the listeners and you will make progress in your chord progression.
In Baroque works of music with recitatives and arias, most recitativs will actually start with a first inversion chord with the third in the bass, because that makes fast progress for the storyline and you can tell a lot of text about what happened in the story to the audience. In contrast to that, in arias, where you stay for a longer time with one particular scene or emotion, you will use more root position chords,.or at least chords inversion with an extra root note in the bass.
You can play the first inversion of the E chord on the piano like this:
Note that the extra bass note is still the root note, which is not directly part of the triad chord.
If you flip again the lowest note of the triad chord one octave higher, you will take the lowest third G# up above the root E. In sheet music notation, that can be written as:
You could also shift the whole chord one octave down and it would still be the 2nd inversion. So the octave it is in has nothing to do with it. You can try that with the interactive Chord Progression Generator.
Note that now the third is the highest note in the triad. The root note is in the middle and the fifth is the lowest note. This inversion can be used, if the melody has the third note G#. It highlights the third note G# because it is the top note. That means the listener can hear the G# very well and it is more emphasized that if it is hidden in the middle between the root and the fifth as in the root position. Also, the sound of the chord in the 2nd inversion is very nice and gentle. It is pleasing for love songs and ballads if played gently. It sounds happy. You can play it on the piano like this: