Slash chords


Many questions are raised as to what a chord such as C/G means, and how to play it. This is a lesson on slash chords.

The short answer is that C/G is a C major chord with G being the lowest note played (G is in the bass). Any slash chord p/q is a p chord with e q note in the bass. That's the simple answer, the whys wherefores and whatnots follow.

Recall, that a chord is a group of 3 or more notes (usually) played at the same time.

Given that there are 12 notes on the chromatic scale, there may be notes not found in a particular type of chord. So, the note q in the chord p/q may or may not be found in the chord p.

We shall consider these two different cases.

We consider first the case where the note in the bass is part of the chord. We call such a thing an inversion, and while a detailed description is beyond this lesson (for those interested, there are lessons on inversions at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archives/archives.html ), we will look at the chords we have become familiar with (C,G,D,A,E, Cm,Gm,Dm,Am,Em).

We recall that we've previously stated that a major chord is made up of 3 notes (and any of their octaves), namely the root note (1), the major 3rd (3), and the perfect 5th (5). We had the following definitions for specific major chords (major = 1,3,5).
E= E,G#,B
D= D,F#,A
C= C,E,G
A= A,C#,E
G= G,B,D

We consider the notes in open position.

E-I-F-|F#-|-G-|
B-I-C-|C#-|-D-|
G-IG#-|-A-|Bb-|
D-IEb-|-E-|-F-|
A-IBb-|-B-|-C-|
E-I-F-|F#-|-G-|

If the lowest note played was the root note, then we generally wouldn't write it out as a slash chord. (This does not imply that you're forced to play the root in the bass if there's not a slash chord).

If the 3rd is in the bass we can refer to it as being in 1rst inversion. Below are 5 chords written in 1rst inversion with one example of how to play the chord written after each one.

E/G# = 4224XX
D/F# = 200232
C/E = 032010
A/C# = X42220
G/B = X20033

note: comparing the above chords with open position and our definition of the chords, we see the lowest note played is the 3rd.

If the 5th is in the bass we can refer to it as being in 2nd inversion. Below are 5 chords written in 2nd inversion with one example of how to play the chord written after each one.

E/B = X22100
D/A = X00232
C/G = 332010
A/E = 002220
G/D = XX0003

note: comparing the above chords with open position and our definition of the chords, we see the lowest note played is the 5th.

Why play an inversion? There are subtle differences in the sound of the different inversions. Other reasons follow below.

The second case is that the note in the bass is not a note already found in the chord. such as C/F.

To play such a chord find the chord in question, (ex. C = X32010), then find where the bass note is (in this case F is found on the 1rst fret of the 6th string, and the 3rd fret of the 4th string. Choose one and make it the lowest note in the chord)

So you could play C/F as
C/F = 1x2010 or
C/F = XX3010
or find other ways to do it.

Why would you play/choose such a chord?
Either you like the way it sounds, or it pops up out of some context.

A couple of ideas of things in context:

Drone note:
Sometimes a bit of music keeps the same bass note while the chords move over it.

ex. A-Bm/A-C#m/A-Bm/A
A=X0X22X , Bm/A=X0X43X, C#m/A=X0X65X

ex. Bb/D-C/D-D
Bb/D=XX0331, C/D=XX0553, D=XX0775

Ascending/descending bass lines:
The most common context you see slash chords in is when there is an ascending or descending bass line.

ex. D-D/C#-D/B-D/A
D=XX0232, D/C#=X4X232, D/B=X2X232, D/A=X0X232

ex. C-G/B-Am-Am/G
C=X3201X, G/B=X2003X, Am=X0221X, Am/G=3X221X

ex. E-F#m-E/G#-A
E=0X21XX, F#m=2X22XX, E/G#=4X24XX, A=X0X22X

Slash chords as pure sounds:
It's not necessary to have any context for a slash chord whatsoever. You might just like the sound a particular slash chord makes, and that's ok.
It may be the case that we've fumbling around, hit a chord, and the easiest way to write it down was as a slash chord.

ex. C#m7/A = 54X45X

ex. F/G = 3X3211

Polytonality:
On rare occassions, you might run accross something like D#5/B5. This is equivalent to saying play a D#5 and below that play a B5. Many times such things are split between more than one player. Such things are fairly uncommon, but in case you see, you'll know how to interpret it.

Next lesson is an intro to voicings.

Peace,
Christopher Roberts


How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated February 28, 2002.
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