If you clicked on this blog hoping to sound more like Guns N’ Roses, you might be disappointed – you won’t find those kind of slash chords here. However, if you’ve got an appetite for chord construction, you’re in the right place!
Slash chords have been used by artists in all genres, so regardless of your style, they’ll be valuable for you. After reading this, you’ll know what slash chords are, why we use them, and how to make better music with them.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Common chord and bass-note combinations.
- The relationship between inversions and slash chords.
- How you can use slash chords to change the sound of a progression.
- Examples of songs that use slash chords.
What is a slash chord?
Simply put, a slash chord occurs when the lowest note of the chord is not the root note.
They get their name from the way they’re spelled out: two letters divided by a slash (/).
For example, when you see a chord notated as C/G, it means you play a C chord with the note G in the bass.
- The letter before the slash indicates the chord played.
- The letter after the slash indicates the bass note played.
Let’s grab our guitars and try it out.
The difference between a simple chord and a slash chord
First, play the simple open C chord. Then, give the voicing for C/G a try. Notice how the two chords have slightly different characters in sound.
- The open C chord uses the root C as the lowest note.
- The C/G chord uses the note G as the lowest note.
One important piece of terminology – musicians will commonly refer to slash chords as “x over y” –
for example, C/G would be said as “C over G”.
How chord inversions inform slash chords
Technically, you can combine any bass note with any chord, but the most common slash chords are based on chord inversions. A chord inversion is when the order of notes in a chord is not in numerical order.
The structure of a simple chord
Let’s look at how a chord is built and what an inversion is. It’ll make it easier for you to figure how to make your own slash chords.
Below are the the seven notes in the G major scale with their corresponding scale degrees (1-7).
To build a chord, we:
- Choose a root note (1)
- Skip a note to add the third (3)
- Skip a note to add the fifth (5)
The highlighted blue notes make up a G major triad.
How to find the root position and inversions of a chord
When we take the lowest note and move it up an octave, we’re playing a chord inversion.
Three notes give us three possible inversions:
The most common slash chords
If you apply your knowledge of chord inversions to slash chords, you won’t be surprised to find out that the most common alternatives to a simple G chord are:
- G/B = G chord with the third in the bass (the note B)
- G/D = G chord with the fifth in the bass (the note D)
Here’s how you can play those chords:
Following this example, you can use our guitar chord library to explore chord voicings with other root notes.
- On the top left corner, select the root note.
- On the top right corner, select Maj/M3. This gives you a major chord with a third in the bass.
- Or select Maj/P5. This gives you a major chord with a fifth in the base.
- Or select the minor chord versions min/m3 and min/P5.
- Make sure to click through the different voicings. Some are easier to play than others.
Below are some examples for slash chords using the root note D.
Using slash chords to add bass lines to chord progressions
One of the main reasons guitar players use slash chords is to create smooth transitions between chords.
If you don’t have a bass player, use slash chords to add a bass line into your progression. This can be a great substitute and keeps that vital backbone in your music.
Chords with an ascending bass line
For this example, here we want to connect a G to a C chord (I to IV chord). In order to create an ascending bass line (G - B - C), we sneak in a G/B in the middle.
Go ahead and play these chords:
Side note: This example uses a Cadd9 chord but if you’re not familiar with it, just think of it as a C chord.
With the help of the G/B chord, we created a beautiful bass line that connects the chords G and C.
The reason this works so well, is because the note B is just a half step away from C. It leads effortlessly into the bass note of the next chord.
Chords with a descending bass line
In this next example, we’ll connect the chords G and Em. The bass notes are all going to be on the lowest string.
- Instead of going straight from the note G to the note E, we’ll add the F# inbetween.
- In this case, we also change the chord along with the bass note.
- The new chord is D major which is in the same key as the other chords (E minor / G major).
Give these chords a try to familiarize yourself with the sounds:
Note: Many people use their thumb to fret notes on the low E string when they play voicings like the D/F# (if it’s good enough for Hendrix it’s good enough for us!).
Here’s a second example connecting the chords Em to C:
Techniques for incorporating bass lines into your guitar playing
Once you’ve practiced some of the ideas we’ve already introduced, use the following steps to incorporate them into your own chord progressions – nothing beats putting new information to work right away!
Add a bass note to connect two chords
Start by choosing two chords that you would like to connect.
- Figure out which notes are the third and fifth of the first chord.
- Choose whichever note leads better into the bass note of the next chord.
- Find a slash chord voicing that you can play as the chord in the middle.
Add a bass note and another chord to connect two chords
Once again, choose two chords that you would like to connect.
- Choose an additional bass note that lies between the lowest notes of your two original chords.
- Try using another chord from the same key in combination with your new bass note in the middle of the progression.
- Find a slash chord that combines the bass note and new chord.
Understanding slash chord voicings for extended chords
Now that we’ve covered simple triads, let’s enter the realm of color chords.
Playing chord progressions using only simple triads is a great foundation, but there are loads of other options to give your songs some more personality.
- Chord extensions, as the name says, extend the possibilities of which notes we add into a chord.
- Any of those notes can also become the lowest note of the chord which turns it into a slash chord.
- The main reason for using slash chords with extensions as the bass note is to create an interesting bass line.
These different notes will add an element of color. This could mean increasing tension, or adding a whole new quality to the chords sound. These colors help us paint a more expressive picture for the listener, and give greater control over the mood.
Common notes to use for chord extensions
Extensions allow us to incorporate all seven notes of the major scale (or all notes of any other scales you’d like to use) in our chords.
We create extensions by adding additional notes to our standard chord shapes.
- If we continue stacking thirds on top of our base triad (1, 3, 5) we get the notes 7, 9, 11 and 13
- The 7th is not considered an extension as it lives within the same octave as the root note.
- Chords with extensions incorporate the 9th, 11th, or 13th notes.
- These are the same notes as your 2nd, 4th, or 6th chord tones, but we use 9, 11, and 13 to indicate that the extension notes are more than an octave above the chord’s root note.
Here’s an example of an A major chord with an added 9th:
If you wanted to use this chord as a slash chord with the extension as the bass note, all you have to do is find a chord voicing with the 9th as the lowest note.
Again, you could use our chord finder tool if you need help working out how to play this one. We’ve added the diagram below just to save you some time.
Let’s look at another example.
Below is a chord voicing for a D minor chord with a 9th.
Notice the difference in the name of the chord. In this case, we leave out the “add” to indicate that the voicing not only has a 9th but also a 7th.
Here’s the same chord as a slash chord:
Note: This voicing omits the root note because it’s not always possible to pretzel your fingers into a shape where you can play all the notes. In that case, it’s common to leave out either the fifth or the root.
Naming chord extensions
Now let’s go through the best way to analyze and name our extended chords.
- We determine the number for each extension in relation to the root note of the chord, not the key.
- In other words, when figuring out extensions, treat each chord as an individual.
- To know the extensions of a chord, start on it’s root note and go up the major scale counting each note.
- When you land on a fret that is in your chord, you’ll have the corresponding number/interval.
If a note within the chord is not found in the major scale, then it’s either a flat (b) or a sharp (#).
- In many cases (such as in our diagrams) the notes are shown as major (M) or minor (m) – just think of minor as a flatted major interval.
- Ex. If the note in your chord is one fret below a major 2nd (M2) then it would be called minor 2nd (m2)
Using closed triad inversions to make up creative slash chords
One way to gain a better understanding of slash chords is to get creative and come up with your own combinations.
- Learn how to play major and minor triads on the first and second string set. (Read our article “Mastering Triad Shapes on the Guitar” if you need help.)
- Choose a triad.
- Play around adding random notes on the low E or A string and see what sounds good.
- Once you find one you like, figure out the notes and try to correctly name it – double check using our chord finder tool.
Tips for practicing slash chords
We have two tips for practicing slash chords:
- Compose intentionally
- Learn songs
Compose chord progressions with slash chords
It’s always a good idea to write your own music with the goal of internalizing a new concept.
- No need to write a whole song or make it perfect – just go through the process of composing and observe what you’re doing.
- Composing even just a short phrase, a riff, or a short chord progression is a great exercise to start incorporating new ideas. When it’s time to use those new tools, you’ll be ready.
- To get you started, try taking one of our examples and transposing the concept into a different key.
Examples of songs that use slash chords in their chord progressions
Learning how to play other peoples songs is also great way to see theory put into practice.
We recommend you not only learn how to play them but also try to analyze the slash chords, ask yourself:
- Which note is in the bass?
- How does the bass note relate to the chord it’s paired with?
- How does the bass note relate to the previous and next bass note?
- How is the slash chord changing the overall sound?
Let’s look at a few example songs.
Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum
In the original version, the harmony is mostly supported by a bass guitar and organ, but it’s a fun exercise to figure out how to translate the progression to the guitar.
Here’s one way to do it:
| C C/B | Am Am/G Am/F# |
| F C/E | Dm Dm/C |
| G G/F | C/E G |
| C F | G |
Rock With You by Michael Jackson
Here’s a classic tune with a disco spirit that incorporates slash chords. Let’s look at the intro riff:
| Ebm9 | Ab/Bb Bb/C | Ebm9 | Ab/Bb B/C# |
| Ebm9 | Ab/Bb Bb/C | Gb/Ab Ab/Bb | Gb/Ab Ab/Bb |
Hopefully you can see how powerful of a tool slash chords are and have the knowledge to start applying them to your playing.
Let’s quickly refresh on some key points before we wrap up.
- The letter before the slash indicates the chord you play, the letter after the slash indicates what the lowest note of that chord should be.
- Most commonly, slash chords are based on chord inversion. This means the notes of the chord stay the same but the order in which we stack them from lowest note to highest note changes.
Main uses for slash chords:
- To connect chords by arranging the lowest notes of each chord into a smooth bass line.
- To add more color to a chord progression.
There are four types of slash chords:
- The bass note is either the 3rd or the 5th.
- The bass note is taken from a 7th chord voicing and is either the 3rd, 5th or 7th.
- The bass note is an extension such as the 9th, 11th or 13th.
- The bass note is a note from outside of the major or minor scale such as a b9, #9, #11 etc.
The best way to understand more about slash chords is to write/play songs that make use of them.
The next step would be to dive deeper into triad shapes and music theory. This way you can move past memorizing chord voicings and instead come up with your own slash chords.
Whether you’re new to music theory or you would like to fill some gaps in your knowledge, we invite you to take advantage of our 14-day free trial to check out the Music Theory Pathway. It’s a three month program that guides you through music theory lessons in a step-by-step, music-first manner. The lessons are all geared towards guitarists and will cover not only the theory but also how to apply it to your guitar playing.
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