Understanding slash chords is very important when playing rock music and reading sheet music or lead sheets (“lead sheets” refer to the kind of music you find in fakebooks, in which the melody and chord symbols are given but nothing else, meaning it is up to the player to create an arrangement or accompaniment from this limited information). But what are slash chords? How do we interpret them? And how are they different from regular chord symbols.
First off, slash chords can be found in all kinds of music – rock, jazz, funk, pop, etc. – so it’s important to understand how to decipher them. Slash chords are simply a short-hand way of telling a chordal player (in our example, a keyboard player) how to “voice” a particular chord.
Let’s throw out some examples. If we were to see chord symbols like this:
We could simply play something like this:
But what if we see something like this:
These are slash chords and they sort of look like chord symbol fractions in which one letter is to the left of the slash and one letter to the right of the slash. And these slash chord symbols give us some very important information. Some pianists make the mistake of thinking that slash chords are only important to bass players. Not the case. Slash chords tell us how the chord is to be “voiced,” meaning how we are to spell the chord when playing it at the piano. The letter to the left (sometimes written on top) indicates the chord that is to be played. The letter to the right (sometimes written on bottom) indicates the note that is to be played in the bass register.
The chord symbol above (G/B) tells us that we are to play a G major chord with a ‘B’ in the bass. Here are some possible voicings for that chord:
Notice that in the right hand, any of the various ways to spell G major are acceptable, but the left hand continues to play a ‘B’ in the bass register as the chord symbol indicates.
Slash chords can be found all over rock music. Play through the example below which is the chorus to an incredibly popular rock tune and see if you can identify it.
Here are those chords fully notated. This is the accompaniment to Billy Joel’s classic hit “Piano Man.”
Check out our great rock lesson on James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” for some more great examples of slash chords!