The piano is a wonderfully capable instrument. Even with something as simple as a single three-note chord in your right hand you can create powerful progressions and unexpected juxtapositions. This lesson is about giving you the tools to start creating as many harmonies as possible from only one chord, and the confidence to sound like a pro while doing it!
Here’s what you need to know:
Slash chords are a great way to have fun and explore the sounds of your piano. Working through these chords you’ll better understand the scales you’re playing in, you’ll be working on your chord progressions, and you’ll be improving your dexterity on the keys.
So what are they?
A slash chord (or compound chord) is a combination of 2 chords.
When I look at a slash chord I like to think of ‘the slash’ as something that divides your chords from top to bottom (or what divides your right and left hands).
Think of a chord like ‘G/D’ as “G over top of D”, so you will play the G Major chord with your right hand on the upper register of the keyboard, and with your left hand on the bass notes, you’ll play D.
This exercise is about exploring all the harmonies and ‘slash chords’ you can create using just 1 triad. You won’t have to read them on a chord sheet, but now you’ll have the tools to when you need. You can check out our more in-depth lesson on slash chords here.
The first step is picking which chord to use with our right hand. I’ve chosen F in its second inversion, but you can choose whatever you see fit!
📝🎵 Take Note! A triad is inverted when a note other than the root is acting as the bass note. For each triad there are 2 possible inversions: the third as the bass note, or the fifth as the bass note. You can read more about inversions here!
This is where things are going to get fun. To begin our exploration of these mysterious slash chords I want you to play a basic 1-6-4-5 (I-vi-IV-V) progression with your left hand to a simple rhythm in the key of F.
🔥🎹 Hot tip! If you’ve chosen a right-hand chord other than F Major, use the Number System to find out which notes fall into the progression.
In the key of F, the notes will be as follows:
Each time you play a note with your left hand that isn’t F (your root note) and play the F Major triad in your right, you are creating a slash chord!
The chord progression looks like this:
It’s important to always finish your progressions on the ‘tonic’ (your root chord, or the first chord you started with) because it’s going to give some sense of resolution to your playing. Ultimately, It’s going to make the progression sound like it’s at the end. Don’t be afraid to try out different options and experiment, but it might sound awkward and suspenseful to finish up with something other than your tonic chord.
You might have noticed in my initial performance that I am bridging octaves with my left hand. Playing octaves is a powerful way to bring drama and gravitas to your playing. It may take time to come to terms with, but with some practice and patience it will become much more natural. Use octaves and you will be amazed at the epic sound you can get out of your piano.
🔥🎹 Hot tip! Octaves might seem intimidating for players with smaller hands, but we’ve got a lesson designed specifically for that! Check it out here.
Now that we’ve spent some time and had our fun with the 1-6-4-5 progression, it’s time to branch out and explore some of the sounds relative to the key we are playing in. Since we are playing in F Major, we can start with the F Major scale:
If you are choosing to explore this exercise with a tonic chord other than F, for now just stick to the notes within its scale… If you are playing a C chord, use the C major scale. If you are playing an Ab minor chord, use the Ab minor scale.
Playing within the confines of the key you’ve chosen will keep these complex chords in traditional harmonies. It’s when you start to explore outside of the scale, trying out interesting and unexpected combinations, that you will begin to open up new avenues of sound; beautiful and not-so-beautiful.
There are 12 possible combinations as there are 12 notes in the chromatic scale.
Some of them are going to sound beautiful, some of them are going to sound spooky or haunting, some may be dreamy, or dramatic or even off-putting… but they all have a place in music, it’s just a matter of finding the right opportunities. Take some time at the end of your practice to let creativity flow through you and explore any and every combination you can think of. There is a world of endless sonic possibilities waiting for the pioneering pianist, and it’s up to you to find them and make the most of them.
Once you’ve got the hang of that and you’ve got a good grasp of what’s going on, you can break up the chords in your right hand with basic arpeggios.
📝🎵 Take Note: Arpeggios are the single notes of a chord broken-up and played in a repeating pattern. Learn more about arpeggios and how they can make your music sound beautiful here.
This is going to add variety and feeling to your playing. You could choose to play the notes in quarter or eighth-note rhythms, you could alternate between the broken and solid chords to create a sense of change– and you can try out any combination of bass note harmonies that we’ve explored previous to this. Broken chords are going to make your playing sound awesome.
Now there is a lot to think about once you get to this level, and there are a lot of moving parts– but there’s still plenty you can do to get creative and have some fun. Trying moving up an octave, try speeding up or slowing down your rhythms in your left hand. There is so much to explore.
After some time with this you’ll be much better equipped to know the notes of your scales: what sounds good, what doesn’t. What you like, and what you want to hear more of. Music is about discovery and it isn’t always going to be beautiful, but the journey will be. Never be afraid to try something new, and practice makes progress!
Take care and happy practicing!
* FREE VIDEO SERIES *
Learning chords is a great way to improve your piano skills without any music theory. And Lisa Witt’s “Chord Hacks” series will show you how to play the most popular chords, so you can play many of your favorite songs on the piano!
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