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When you first see slash chords in music, they can look super confusing and pretty intimidating. You’ll most likely think, “What the heck is that?!”
Take this line from “Desperado” by The Eagles:
That’s what it looks like in music. But what does it mean and more importantly, how do you play it?
Let’s break it down and look at that slash chord.
The first letter is the CHORD. That is the chord we are playing at that time. I find it helpful to think about it as what your right hand is doing.
The slash just means “over the top of”.
Then the second letter is the name of the note you’ll play with your LEFT hand in the bass.
So a G/B chord would be a G chord with your right hand and a B note with your left.
It may be useful to think of slash chords in terms of their structure:
Another way of thinking about slash chords is that the symbols are giving us an INSTRUCTION about which INVERSION to use to pay the chord in.
Think of a G chord. The notes are G-B-D.
If the B note is on the bottom (which is what the slash chord is telling us), then we’re actually playing a G chord in 1st inversion.
You can get slash chords that have notes that don’t belong to the chord. So they’re not really an inversion and on their own, they can sound pretty crunchy and just wrong.
These are often used as part of a walking bassline. Where the bottom note is traveling somewhere, and the slash chord is just a step on that journey.
Look at the song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Annie Lennox. There are lots of slash chords here:
Notice that the notes DON’T belong to the basic chords. C/B can sound pretty crunchy when played on its own. But here the technique is used to WALK the bassline down from the C chord to the Am chord. And using the B to get there is a beautiful way to do it.
You can see this entire line of music uses slash chords to walk the bass from a top C down to a lower C. Pretty cool.
Slash chords make a dramatic difference in songs. It helps to get comfortable knowing how to play them and also learning how they SOUND.
Pick a chord, look at the notes of that chord, and try playing the chord in your right-hand while alternating the bass notes in your left hand!
You could also try playing other notes from the scale of the chord to see how that sounds.
Slash chords don’t have to be intimidating, scary, or something to avoid. Now you know what they are and how to play them, your songs will sound even better.
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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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