Slash Chords Jazz Piano Lesson
All slash chords contain 2 bits of information. The first letter that is on the left hand side of the slash, indicates what chord should be played. The second letter that is on the right hand side of the slash indicates what note should be played in your left hand or in the bass.
Something to be aware of is that slash chords are commonly used as shorthand. So if you are reading a lead sheet and you come across Cmaj13#11 — that is a lot of information to process. Alternatively, reading the chord as D/C tells you the exact same chord but just with much less information.
As you are exposed to more slash chords you will be able to quickly analyse them in terms of the extensions and the alterations.
What Are Slash Chords?
The first category of slash chords is when the bass note is one of the primary chord tones of the chord to the left of the slash. When this is the case, the chord is simply an inversion.
The second category of slash chords is when the bass note is not part of the chord to the left of the slash. ie. the bass note is not one of the primary chord tones of the chord to the left of the slash. When this is the case, you should always analyse the chord as if the bass note is the root of the chord.
Slash Chords Containing Major 7ths
It’s also common to have 7th chord within slash notation. These are dealt with in the exact same way that we deal with the triads.
If the bass note is one of the primary chord tones of the 7th chord to the left of the slash, ie. Root, 3rd, 5th, or 7th — then we simply play an inversion of the 7th chord.
Slash Chords Bass Line Movement
Slash chords are also commonly used to achieve specific step-wise or chromatic bass line movement. Whenever you come across a slash chord, analyse the bass line in the progression to see where it is going.
Looking at the opening bars of My One & Only Love that I was playing in the intro, I have highlighted the roots of the chords, or the implied bass notes. We can see that the slash chords create a descending step wise bass line.
Flick through your jazz fakebook and when you find slash chord, analyse the chord and work out whether the bass note is part of the chord to the left of the slash. If it's not then try to work out what chord is being implied.
Next examine the bass line movement and try to identify any step wise or chromatic bass lines.
- Finally, try to play the measure where the slash chord appears.