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Slash Chords on Guitar: What They Are and How to Use Them

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Slash chords are chords in which a note other than the root note is in the bass position. You might think this sounds very similar to chord inversions and you’d be right. Slash chords, in many cases, are simply chord inversions written in slash notation.

However, they don’t have to be inversions. In fact, the bass note can be any note you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be a chord tone at all.

In some cases, slash notation is just another way to write a more complex chord.

How do you read a slash chord?

Slash chord notation may look a little strange, but reading them is straightforward. In the simplest terms, it can just be read as “C slash B”. It can also be read as “C over B”, which makes sense considering you’re playing a C chord over a B bass note.

Slash chord notation

It makes no difference which you use, but depending on the setting it may be easier to communicate with other musicians using one over the other.

Playing slash chords

Slash chords can be strummed like any other guitar chord, particularly if it’s a chord inversion with the bass note coming from the main major/minor chord.

However, in some cases you may want to play the bass note first, then strum the rest of the chord. In essence, you can think about it as filling the role of the bass player by singling out the bass note of the chord. Playing them in this manner is useful when you’re playing by yourself and there is no bass player to play the bass note.

There’s no hard, fast rule, so strum the chords whichever way best fits the context of the chord progression you’re playing.

Common slash chords

Below are some of the common slash chords you may come across.

Common slash chords on guitar

How to use slash chords

One of the more common uses of slash chords is to create smoother transitions between two chords that have a distant intervalic relationship. In this regard, they can be thought of as passing chords. This can be done either ascending or descending.

A really good example of this is “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

During the chorus, the song moves from C to C/B then Am to Am/G before ultimately resolving to an F chord. In both instances of the slash chord, it’s used to provide a descending passing tone to the next chord.

Slash chords Creedence Clearwater Revival

Selecting the bass note

As stated above, any note can be used as the bass note of a slash chord. It can be a note within the chord (chord tone) or it can be a note not in the chord at all.

When using slash chords to transition between chords, you’ll want to use a bass note that moves toward the next chord. In the example above, notice the descending bass line of the chords being used.

C -> B -> A -> G -> F

This movement is simply descending the C major scale from C to F.

In another example, we can use G/A to ascend from G major to Cadd9. In this case, the bass notes are G -> A -> C.

Slash chords G/A

Wrap up

With this lesson you have a better understanding of slash chords and how to use them. Simply put, they’re just chords with a bass note different than the root. The bass note can be a chord tone, but it doesn’t have to be part of the main chord at all. With the examples in this lesson, you should have an idea of how to use slash chords. However, there’s more than one way to use them, so experiment with them in your progressions to see how they can work for you.

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