What do you do when you see a chord like this?
When I first saw these, it looked like I was being asked to choose between two chords. I tried them as alternatives and soon worked out that the first chord always worked but not the second. It took me a little while to figure out what they meant.
These are Slash Chords – which is a quick way of saying that these are chords that have a modified bass or root note.
How Do You Read Slash Chords?
The important thing to remember about slash chords is this.
The information BEFORE the slash is a chord
The information AFTER the slash is a single note
So back to our example.
Asus2/C# is an Asus2 chord with a C# note as its root note. Normally an Asus2 chord has an open fifth string ‘A’ note as its root note (bass note) but the /C# part now changes this regular chord into something a bit different. Instead of an ‘A’ being the bass note of the chord, now a ‘C#’ on the fifth string is the bass note. This gives the chord a different sound. The normally strong ‘A’ sound of this chord has been reduced and the chord now sounds less definable in terms of its overall sound or tonality.
Here’s another example, a normal Em chord has been changed to an Em/G
Instead of the first note being the open sixth string ‘E’ note, it has now been changed to a ‘G’ note. It’s still an Em chord, just an Em with a slightly different sound.
How Do You Name These Slash Chords?
You will hear musicians refer to these types of chords in various ways:
For an example a G/B chord may be called:
“G slash B”
“G major over B” or “G over a B note”
“G with a B in the bass”
Why Use Slash Chords?
Slash chords are often used as passing chords or transition chords to move a tune along. They are also useful to create moving bass lines much loved by finger pickers and singer songwriters like James Taylor. Check out the chorus in Fire and Rain to see what I mean.
Remember, if you get stuck, just ignore the slash part and play the normal chord, it will still work just fine. The slash part adds a bit of spice but most songs work pretty well without them.
Tip – When learning a song with slash chords, just get a basic version of the song without the slash chords going first and then see how you can work them in. Often you will need to change your fingering for slash chords.
Popular Slash Chords – D/F# C/E G/B
Here are some other popular slash chords: