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Slash Chords


Don't let slash chords confuse you too much. No, they are not the chords that the guitarist from Guns and Roses uses, they are something different.

A slash is this: /, so a slash chord should have one of them in its name. These are all slash chords: G/B, C/Bb, F/G, Cmaj7/E.

The symbol on the left of the slash is a chord and the symbol on the right is the bass note. So the slash chord G/B means that you have to play a G triad over a B bass note. If I wanted you to play this chord, I would probably say; "Play G on B" or "play G over B."

There are basically two types of slash chords: one is an inversion of the chord itself, this makes the bass note (notated on the right of the slash) the 3rd, 5th or 7th of the chord. In the other type of slash chord, the bass note functions as the actual root of the chord. There is a gray area where these two types of slash chords overlap.


Triad Inversions

The first type of slash chords we will deal with are just simple triad inversions. Simply by voicing any triad with the 3rd or 5th in the bass will yield a slash chord. Ex: A simple C major triad voiced with the third, E as the bass note will yield a C/E slash chord, voiced with the 5th, G as the bass note will yield a C/G slash chord. When the triad has as the bass the root, it is said to be in root position. With the 3rd in the bass, 1st inversion and with the 5th in the bass, 2nd inversion.



Play each inversion below. The roots are in black for reference:



The previous chord examples are just a few of the many triad voicings that can be constructed, see if you can come up with some more voicings of major triads. After you figure some more of the major voicings out, try to come up with the minor shapes also.


Bass Movement

Why would you want to use the inversion anyways? - These kinds of slash chords are often used to simply create chromatic bass movements in your chord progressions. Take a look at the chord progression below:



Although the bass movement works fine, we can create a smoother bassline by playing the G chord in 1st inversion. This will make the bassline for the first two chords descend chromatically:




Lets take this concept a step further. Play the "before" version...



And now the "after" version. Check out how the bassline is completely chromatic for the first four chords:




The first inversion major chord (3rd in the bass) is probably the most commonly used of the inversions. While triads in root position and in their inversions are the rule in pop and rock, you aren't likely to find triads in root position very often in Jazz, the 1st inversion major triad however can be found from time to time. Check out the example below:



I used the previous chord progression in one of my own songs, "When Love Greets You" (Real Audio, 1.3 MB).


Creating contrary motion - I'm going to show you how we can use slash chords to create contrary motion. In the chord progression below, the chords all descend in whole steps...



And once again the "after" version. While the chords descend in whole steps, the bassline ascends creating some musical interest.



Seventh Chord Inversions

Seventh Chord Inversions: Just as triads can be inverted, so can seventh chords. The 3rd, 5th and 7th can all be used as the bass note. As seventh chords are four note chords, we get the choice of four notes for our bass notes:



Some of the inversions work better than others. While the maj7th chord in first and second inversion sound beautiful, the 3rd inversion (7th in bass) sounds horrible. I couldn't even come up with a decent example for this lesson (give it a shot anyways, you never know). While the 3rd inversion for the maj7 chord sounds pathetic, the 3rd inversion of the dominant 7 chord (b7th in the bass) is somewhat common. Generally the inversions of the maj7 and dominant 7 chords are used more commonly than the inversions of the min7 chords, the min7 chord in first inversion simply turns into a maj6 chord. Ex: Amin7/C = C6. Try out the chord progression below and you'll hear how beautiful and spacious the maj7 chords in 1st and 2nd inversion sound. Oh yeah, I'll explain the Bb/C chord a little later, try not to think about it too much for now:




Complex Harmony

Creating complex harmony using slash chords - While the first kind of slash chords we worked with were simply inverted triads or 7th chords used to create a desired bass movement, the next type are something all together different. With triads and 7th chords, the bass note (on the right of the slash) is either the 3rd, 5th or 7th of the chord, in the next examples all the bass notes will be the actual roots. Before we start making some harmonically complex chords, let's first make some 7th chords by using the slash chord technique we studied in the previous examples. Examine the following Amin7 chord. If you look carefully you will find that the top three notes form a Cmaj triad. Therefore you can think of an Amin7 chord as a C triad simply placed over an A bass note, that's right: Amin7 = C/A



I moved the bass an octave lower than it is notated so we can hear the actual C triad over the A bass note.


As you discovered in the last example, 7th chords can be thought of as slash chords. I took the diatonic 7th chords of the C major scale and notated them as slash chords. Above the chord is the standard notated 7th chord name, below is the slash chord name:



I wrote the last example just to simply show you that you've been playing slash chords all along and might have never realized it. Before we move on to more complex harmony I need you to learn some simple triad shapes. The shapes are going to get put on top of various bass notes and open up into some pretty heavy chords. Generally major triads get used way more than minor triads for this kind of thing so I'm only going to cover them. Learn the following major triad shapes, roots are in black:



Before we get going on the cool stuff on the next page, make sure you have the previous triads down. Don't worry, this page will be here waiting for you.....

Putting It All Together

A word on slash chords: First of all, there are a zillion different slash chords, the possibilities are endless. While reading a chart, just do what the chart says, if it tells you to play B/G. that's exactly what you do. The problem is in figuring out exactly what the slash chord translates into. You should try to analyze as many as you can just to get used to looking at them. First you have to figure out whether or not the slash chord in question is just an inverted chord or if it is in root position. If indeed the chord is in root position, the next step is to figure out what extensions the triad is creating in relation to the bass note. While trying to analyze slash chords you will have to use your common sense as well as your theory knowledge, the reason being is that quite often the 3rd and/or 5th are omitted so the slash chord can serve as either minor, major or dominant. The truth is that there may be more than one correct answer for each slash chord. Try analyzing the following slash chords, Possible chord (above) and slash chord (below). Answers at the bottom:




Major Sounds

Major family slash chords: There are basically three different major family slash chords. I tend to use these as my first choice whenever I play any major family chord.
Ex. 1: By placing the major triad a 5th above the bass note we can make a slash chord that works as a maj9 chord.. Ex: you want to make a Cmaj9 chord, simply place a G triad on a C bass note and you'll get a maj9 chord (without a 3rd). G is a 5th above C: G/C = Cmaj9. Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a perfect 5th above the bass note will render a slash chord that sounds and functions as a maj9 chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: E/A, B/E, F#/B, D/G, A/D, G/C, C/F.
This slash chord pretty much replaces any major chord. Anywhere you would play a maj7 or maj9 chord, use this one instead. The following example just illustrates how this slash chord could replace the standard I chord in a ii - V - I:




Ex. 2: By placing the major triad a 2nd above the bass note we can make a maj13#11 chord. Ex: you want to make a Cmaj13#11 chord, simply place a D triad on a C bass note and you'll render a major chord that sounds and functions like a maj13#11 chord (without the 3rd, 5th and 7th). D is a 2nd above C: D/C = Cmaj13#11. I tend to think of this slash chord as the "lydian" slash chord because of the #11th. Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a major 2nd above the bass note will render a slash chord that sounds and functions like a maj13#11 chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: E/D, C/Bb, G/F, D/C, A/G.
You could argue about what this slash chord actually is; if you analyze it assuming the bass note is the root it looks like a maj13#11 chord but it could also be argued that it is a dominant 7th chord in 3rd inversion (the bass note being the b7th of the chord). Both are correct. That's right this slash chord could replace either a C major chord or a D7 chord. This is one of the gray areas I was talking about in the opening paragraph:



In the example below, the second and last slash chords are our "lydian" slash chords while the fourth chord in the sequence is a 2nd inversion Eb chord:




Ex. 3: By placing the major triad a 3rd above the bass note we can make a maj7#5 chord. Ex: you want to make an Fmaj7#5 chord, simply place a A triad on a F bass note and you'll get a maj7#5 chord. A is a 3rd above F: A/F = Fmaj7#5. Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a major 3rd above the bass note will render a maj7#5 chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: F/Db, C/Ab, G#/E, B/G, E/C.
Play the following chord progression, the slash chord in the third measure is our maj7#5 chord. The first and last chord are the slash chords from first example (maj9 functioning slash chords). This example is similar to what Wayne Shorter did in his classic tune: "Prince of Darkness":



Dominant Sounds

Dominant family slash chords: Both altered and unaltered dominant sounding chords can be created using slash chords. Let's start with the unaltered type.

Ex. 4: By placing the major triad a 2nd below the bass note we can make a dominant 9sus chord. Ex: you want to make a G9sus chord, simply place a F triad on a G bass note and you'll get the sound of the 9sus chord. F is a 2nd below G: F/G = G9sus. Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a major 2nd below the bass note will render a slash chord that sounds and functions as a dominant 9sus.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: C/D, A/B, G/A, D/E, Eb/F.
This slash chord replaces any unaltered dominant chord. Anytime you run across a 9sus chord in a chart, use this slash chord. The example below is somewhat similar to what Herbie Hancock did in "Dolphin Dance":




Ex. 5: By placing the major triad a tritone (dim5th) above the bass note we can make a dominant 7(b9,#11) chord. Ex: you want to make a B7(b9,#11) chord, simply place a F triad on a B bass note and you'll get the sound of the 7(b9,#11) chord. F is a tritone above B: F/B = B13(b9,#11). Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a tritone (dim5th) above the bass note will render a slash chord that sounds and functions as a 7(b9,#11) chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: C/F#, A/Eb, D/Ab, F#/C, B/F.
This slash chord, like the example before, is also derived from the diminished half/whole scale. Try the example below:




Ex. 6: By placing the major triad a maj6 above the bass note we can make a dominant 13b9 chord. Ex: To make a G13b9 chord, simply place an E triad on a G bass note and you'll get the sound of the 13b9 chord. E is a 6th above G: E/G = G13b9. Check the example below:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a major 6th above the bass note will render a slash chord that sounds and functions as a dominant 13b9 sounding.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: B/D, A/C, F#/A, D/F, C/Eb.
This slash chord technically is derived from the diminished half/whole scale. Try the example below:




Slash chords and the diminished half/whole scale

Because of the symmetrical structure of the diminished half/whole scale, any chord that is derived from it can be moved up or down in minor third intervals and will still function as some kind of dominant chord.

I know, if you are hearing this for the first time, you are scratching your head. I'll give you an example using the slash chords from the last two examples: let's say you want to use a slash chord to make a dominant sounding chord, the dominant chord you want to make is a some kind of B7 chord.

You decide to use the Ex. 6 slash chord that you learned above: a triad placed a tritone (dim5) above the root and you will get a B7(b9,#11) chord. The triad a tritone above B is F so a F/B slash chord = B7(b9,#11).

Here is the trick: you can move the F triad up a minor third and place it over our B bass note and it should make some kind of dominant chord also. Let's see, hmm..... a minor third above F is Ab so our new slash chord is Ab/B.

What does this chord analyze to? Well, a Ab triad is spelled: Ab - C - Eb, placed over our B bass note, the Ab note is a 13th, the C is a b9th and the Eb is a 3rd (really D#, but it's the same note). Duh... this was our Ex. 5 slash chord! Remember? A triad placed a maj6th above the bass note renders a 13b9 chord. Ab is enharmonic with G# and G# is a maj 6rd from B.

What about the other triads? A min3rd from Ab is Cb which is really B, and B/B is just plain old B and since B is inside a B7 chord, you can consider it a B7 chord. A minor third from B is D and D is spelled D - F# - A. Placed over a B bass note D = #9, F# = 5 and A = b7 so this chord can be analyzed as a B7#9 chord. This chord can also be analyzed as a Bmin7 chord but since the dominant tonality has already been determined, it is fine to analyze it this way. Check out how Chick Corea used this technique in "500 Miles High":



Minor Sounds

Minor family slash chords: Unlike major and dominant harmony, there isn't any real groundbreaking things that done with slash chords in regards to minor harmony. There are basically three shapes that I tend to use.

Ex. 7: This example is the same one we looked at before, the plain old min7 chord. The only reason you may want to use this slash chord rather than a plain old min7th chord is only to tie harmonic motifs together. In a series of slash chords it may help to think of a Amin7 as a C/A chord to keep the triad voicings moving in a congruent manner.



Rule: a major triad superimposed a minor 3rd above the bass note will render a plain old min7 chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: E/C#, D/B, G/E, F/D, Eb/C.
This slash chord simply makes a min7 chord. It helps to notate it as a slash chord if you want to make sure the person playing the chords specifically voices it with a triad on top, by simply notating the chord as a min7 chord, the person chomping the changes my take the liberty of playing a min9, min11 or min13th chord. The min7 chord notated as a slash chord will make sure the harmonic motif stays uninterrupted.




Ex. 8: We've also looked at this one before in Ex.4. As I mentioned before, slash chord often don't have 3rds of 5ths present so they can be looked upon as either. This slash chord works well as both. Consider it either a 9sus or a min11 chord:



Rule: a major triad superimposed a major 2nd below the bass note will render a min11th sounding slash chord.

Try it yourself: Try putting together the following slash chords using the triad shapes we learned earlier: B/C#, A/B, E/F#, D/E, C/D.
This slash chord in its minor form works well for any genre but it gets used quite often in a rock setting. It tends to follow a min7th chord. It often gets used in the following manner:




Other Sounds

There are way to many slash chords to describe in detail. Take a look at the chart below and try each of the slash chords out. I simply superimposed each of the chromatic triads over a C bass note. The second column simply describes the extensions created, the third column gives some common progressions and the last column, some points to remember. Beware of enharmonic notes:



Try to experiment and have some fun. I've only described what can be done by superimposing major triads over bass notes. See what you can do with augmented and minor triads. Also see what happens when you superimpose 7th chords over various bass notes, Ex: Gmin7/C.


Analysis Answers



This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/136
Native New Yorker, long time studio musician and session guitarist Chris Juergensen is in constant demand as a sideman, front man and clinician. He currently divides his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles where he continues to write, record, play and teach at Musicians Institute. He has released three solo CDs to date plus two published instructional books. Visit his website


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