Alternate Bass Notes of Chords The Infamous "Slash" Chords
Slash chords like G/F# seem to be the most well-kept secret of the guitar industry.
No one wants to tell beginners what the heck that slash means. Well, I am going to go out on
a limb and explain to you guys what the slash refers to and why you use chords with slashes.
So stop being confused, and read on.
One note before we begin: I will be using many musical examples, so when I
mention a chord progression, play it to see how it sounds so you understand what I am talking
about. Good luck!
If you don't know the notes of the fretboard up to the fifth fret, you will
need to know them to understand and to create your own slash chords. These are
the notes of the fretboard:
As I mentioned in the overview of keys, each chord contains a root, third, and fifth.
According to music theory, the lowest note played (bass note)
in any standard chord must be its root.
Therefore, a D chord must have a D bass note. Therefore we get xx0232, which has a D bass (the
open fourth string). However, music would get rather boring if every chord contained
the root note as the bass note. Therefore, musicians frequently use alternate bass notes.
If you want to change the bass note of a chord, you use a slash. For example, if you want a D
chord with an F# bass, you write D/F# and play 200232 (thumb 6th string) or 20032x, because
sixth string 2nd fret is an F#. Note that the D/F# chord contains all the notes of
a D chord and an F# bass, not the other way around.
You may ask "why would you want to use an alternate bass note?"
Say you are executing this progression: Em-D-G. If you throw in a D/F# instead of
the D, the F# bass stands out clearly and leads the D chord strongly to the G chord.
So you change your progression to Em-D/F#-G, and it goes together much better.
Try playing both and see. However, this
will not necessarily work all the time depending on the sound you desire and fingerings you
are using so look at each indivisual case to see what's best.
There are many uses
for these slash chords. The most common use is for a bass run. This is a rapidly changing
bass line that drives your chord progression. This is outlined here: C-C/B-Am. C/B is
played x2x010, and provides a good intermediate chord between C and Am. Another common bass run
is G-G/F#-Em, which is basically the same idea as C to Am. G/F# is played 2x0003. For a song
with extensive use of bass runs, see the Eagles' The Girl From
The other common use of slashes is to change the inversion of chords, which I illustrated above.
When you have a D chord, the three pitches are D, F#, and A. If you play a D/F# (200232) or D/A
(x00232), you are playing an inversion. Inversions use a chord tone as the bass note,
while bass runs generally do not. When you consider C/B, B is not in the C chord (C, E, G),
and therefore is not an inversion. But F# is in a D chord, so D/F# is an inversion. Inversions
are used to bring out bass notes or to provide continuity between chords. For example, in the
Eagles' Life in the Fast Lane, there is a progression in the middle which goes like this:
E--D/E--C/E--A/E, all to provide the continuity of the E bass because the riff is based
around that E. Obviously as I said before, E has an E bass. D/E is not an inversion,
it is simply a continuation element. C/E and A/E are inversions, though, so it is
not entirely strange to see them in that form. Here are some common slash chords that you may
come across in everday music:
You may also want to eventually try to figure out how to make a weird slash chord.
I will consider two types of slash chords to figure out. The first is an inversion,
Em/B. A normal Em chord contains the pitches E, B, G, and is formed 022000.
Notice that B is the fifth of the chord, so Em/B is an inversion, as I said.
Since B is already in the chord, all you have to do is look for where that note
appears in the chord. In our case, the fifth string 2nd fret is a B. If we
treat that as the bass note, we get x22000, which still contains the pitches E, B, G.
That means that we still have an Em chord, but with a B bass: Em/B.