Let’s pretend that you’ve got an audition coming up in a couple of days for a hip new band looking for a guitar player. The band gives you some sheet music with the band’s songs on it so you can get a little practice in before the big day.
The time comes for practice and you’re all set. With guitar in hand, you set out to learn the songs only to find, to your horror, weird chords with slashes. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It must be some of that music theory stuff you keep hearing about. You curse yourself for not paying closer attention in music class…
You see chords with names like:
What’s going to happen if you show up for your audition and you still don’t know what the heck they are? Sure, you can always try to fake it, but which chord or which side of the slash are you going to play? It’s a nightmare!
They aren’t a big deal and with about 10 minutes of practice, you’ll know just how to play them. Just take a few minutes to read the rest of this article and I’ll tell you how.
But first, let’s get something straight. In order to fully understand slash chords and gain from this knowledge, you’ll need to know a couple of things.
- First, you should already be able to play basic chords. You should be able to play several open chords. Having the ability to play some barre chords is a plus!
- Second, you’ll need some ability to find notes on the fretboard by their name. Can you find a C note on your guitar? If the answer is no, then you’re going to have some trouble.
A Simple Explanation
Slash chords are just normal chords with one note changed. The note altered is the root note of the chord. The root note will be the lowest note of the chord, so we are simply altering (or changing) the lowest note of the chord.
The first chord (the chord on the left of the slash) is the main chord. The chord on the right of the slash is not a chord at all. It’s the name of the note that we want the lowest note of the chord to be.
Remember our examples?:
The C/G chord is a C chord with the bottom note being a G. To play it you can use a normal open C chord, but you’ll add the G on the 3rd fret of the low E string and play it along with the C chord. That’s a C/G chord.
There is no real way to diagram all the chord voicings possible. In fact, you don’t need any silly chord dictionary or diagrams at all. You just have to remember that the letter on the left-hand side with be the main chord you’ll form. The letter on the right will tell you what root note to play.
Other than that you just need to be able to do a little detective work and figure out the easiest way to add the altered note to the main chord shape.
So far the example slash chords we’ve explained have been easy to figure out using basic open chord patterns. But what about a chord like C/D?
Do I Really Need To Play Them?
It’s just like adding a note to the existing chord voicing to create harmonic tension or to create a moving bass line in a series of chords.
you are dealing with a walking bass line
with a lot of the “slash” chords, the bass note is used as a passing tone- you don’t always play it exactly with the chord.
if you can’t find the bass note within easy reach below the lowest note of the chord, start removing notes from the chord until you get to it.
The only complication to this is that you have to have at least one root note or else you’re actually changing chords.
Basically, they are a chord voicing with the root note altered. In our examples above, it’s just like adding a note to the existing chord voicing to create harmonic tension or to create a moving bass line in a series of chords.
Take a B7 for instance. Turn it into B7/A
Now, the closest A below the low B is the fifth fret on the sixth string. That would make the chord pretty tricky to grab, right? Well, we have a couple of choices but the easiest way is to just change the low B into an A by removing your second finger from the fifth string. The chord is still a B7 since it contains the root (B, the most important tone, albeit an octave higher), the 3rd (D#), the 5th (F#), and the 7th (A).
So as you can see, some key skills to have for instant recall for slash chords are…
(a) know your fretboard
(b) understand how chords are constructed.
(c) be able to transpose chords around the fretboard (how many B7’s can you find on your fretboard?)
BTW, your G/D could be played like this…
|–3– G (root)
o—– B (3rd)
o—– G (root)
o—– D (5th)
|–1– G (root)
|–1– D (5th)
|—2- B (3rd)
|—-3 G (root)
|—-4 D (bass, 5th)
X—– (Drop the G from this string)
This highlights another point, slash chords don’t always have to be in the open position. This is where it really helps to know the notes that make up the chord.