Slash Chords
What they are and how to use them.


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If you come across slash chords in popular piano music it will usually indicate in what inversion a chord will be played. It is indicated by a slash after the chord name and the letter name of the note that is to be played in the bass


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In popular piano music and popular music in general the note that is played in the bass is very important.

The bass note is the note that will be played by the left hand by the piano player and by the bass player if you are in a band situation.

The bass note is often the most important note of the chord.

With no other indication if we come the chord symbol C we would most likely play a regular first inversion C maj triad with the note C being played in the left hand or as the lowest note of the chord.

However when we would like to play a C major chord in the first inversion then E turns to be the lowest note of the chord (Because you invert the chord from C-E-G to E-G-C).

So how are we going to write a chord that needs to be played in a certain chord inversion?


This chord will then be written as a slash chord. Since the bass is the most important note of a chord you can say that a chord is identified by the bass note.

When you play a different bass note you change the color and the identity of the chord.

So in the example of a C major triad if the note C is the bass note (root position) it will usually just be written as C.

The first inversion would be written as C/E and spelled from bottom up E-G-C.

The second inversion would be written as C/G and spelled from the bottom up as G-C-E.


In popular music, where the particular arrangement of notes is less important than some other forms like classical music, slash chords are generally used only when the specific bass note is important.

A common example in many popular songs is in the I-V-VIm progression. By placing the third of the V chord in the bass, a descending scale, also known as a walkdown, is created in the bass.

A great example of a walk down chord progression using specific chord inversions indicated by slashes would be the hit from Billy Joel "Piano Man"

Using one chord per measure in 3/4 time the chords for the verses go like this:

:C / G/B / Am / C/G / F / C/E / D7 / G7 / C / G/B / Am / C/G / F / G / C :

Notice that the bass notes "walk down" the entire C major scale.

In this song the bass line is important to the entire sound and feel of the song.

Slash chords are also used to notate chord extensions. Extended chords are chords which contain 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths.

These added chord tones provide color and tension to chords and are most often found in Jazz arrangements.

Lets say you want to play and notate a G7 chord with added 9th 11th and 13th.

It would be awkward to write that chord G7 add 9, 11, 13.

If you take the 4 extended notes they would be F (7th) A (9th) C (11th) and E (13th)

Those notes by themselves make an F maj 7th chord.

If you play a G note in the left hand and the Fmaj 7th in the right you will get a great sounding G7 with the added 9th, 11th and 13th

This could be notated Fmaj7/G

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