Why are there two letters in the chord name? What are Slash chords?
Mar 23, 2021
Why are there two different letters in the chord name? What are slash chords?
The second letter stands for the bass note or the lowest note that should be played instead of the root of the chord.
For instance, in the "C" chord, the lowest note played would be "C." In an "C/G" chord, all of the notes of the C chord would ring but you would also play the low G on the sixth string (third fret).
Check out this classical John Lennon tune:
In this example, Lennon starts with a D chord and then strangely moves to a D/A#:
All of a sudden this chord brings a dark and brooding vibe that you could never get from just playing a D major chord. On its own it would be tricky to figure out where to place this chord, but after the D it creates the mood that Lennon needed for the song.
Continuing on, the next chord is D/B:
With only a half-step rise in the bass voice, the color of the progression changes to a more hopeful feeling. Music theory nerds might analyze this D/B as a Bm7. Excuse the pun but that chord in isolation would be a Bm7.
However, in the context of the other chords in this progression, this configuration of notes doesn't really function or sound like a Bm7. Since the D Major is so clearly established at the top of the progression the moving bass line established by the slash chords allows the listener to hear the D chord in relation to the moving bass line. The D/B truly sounds like a D over B.
The next chord is D/C:
C is a dissonant note against the D chord. Specifically, this would be the note that would make it a D7 chord if you played the C on the second string first fret. Conversely, in the context of this song, this D chord over a C bass note doesn't sound or feel like a D7 chord.
Try it out: Play the progression D, D/A#, D/B, D/C, G. Now play the same progression but with a D7 instead of a D/C.
It sounds substantially different! Yes, you can still feel the low C as a seventh of the chord but when you change the bass note to the root (D) it changes the feeling of the progression.
This moving bass line has drastically affected the way the listener hears the progression. Further, these dissonant and unexpected bass tones support the ideas of the song. This makes Lennon's lyrics all the more powerful!
As mentioned above, frequently after playing a C chord songwriters, rather than playing a regular G will go to the G/B.
Another song that uses the D over F# chord is Plush by Stone Temple Pilots. Once the verse section of the song starts after the intro the chord progression of the song is: G, D/F#, F, C/E, EbMaj7 etc. Notice that the bass voice in each chord descends by half-step (one fret at a time) all the way through the progression!
This leads to a really smooth low voice. I should say that the guitarist has to play a higher voicing of the EbMaj7 because the guitar is in standard tuning but that caveat aside... the bass voice sounds good.
This song really shows off how cool stepwise bass motion can sound! The intro and verse progression is Csus2, G/B, Gm/Bb, D/A. Thus, the bass line is C, B, B flat, A. If you haven't listened to the song yet click the link above. Below are diagrams of the chords he's using. Strum through them and appreciate the beauty of stepwise bass progression.
I hope that this has been helpful for understanding slash chords!!
Keep an eye on Video Guitar Glossary for more blogs about unusual or interesting chords!!
More slash chord songs:
This could go on for a long time....