Tag Archives: Music Theory

How to Play Slash Chords

Part 1: What are Slash Chords?


You see them in almost every piece of music, they’re plastered all over the internet. Yet, most guitar players have no idea what they mean or how to play them. It’s one of the most repeated questions students ask me over and over again.

Hi, Professor Kleiman at your service: Philly Music Lessons’ resident fretted/string instrument guru. You know; Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Banjo Ukulele, Sitar. Strings AND Frets. My hope is that this can become a regular column and with your help, questions, suggestions and comments, it will. I will try and debunk all the misinformation that’s out there or ‘up there’ in the cloud.

But let’s get back to the question at hand:

C/G or Em/B or even just some space and /G#

What do they mean????? Do you play a ‘C’ chord and then real fast change to ‘G’??? Do I play an ‘E minor’ chord a ‘B’ chord together??? Do I play a G# chord at some point???? The answer to all of them is NOPE.

I’ll answer this question with another. In a live band recording or performance, what other instruments are playing? Let’s break it down to the smallest group: The Power Trio- a Guitar player, a Drummer and a Bass player.

Their Roles:

Drummer: they bang and keep the beat. Guitar: they also bang but play chords – How ‘bout that Bass player: what is their job???

They sure don’t play chords. No, they play the bottom. They play the Bass. They play the lowest sound: THE ROOTS!!!!! That’s their job. You could put together the hottest drummer and guitar player you know but if the bass doesn’t do it’s job and play the ROOTS you got nothin’. Absolutely none of the music will sound right. What are the ROOTS or what are the ROOT notes?? That’s easy.

It’s the most important note in any chord and it’s easy to figure out the root note. All chords derive their name from the root note.

C chord= C root note.

G7 chord = G root note.

Bm chord = B root note.

F#7b9 = F# root note.

Ab13#5#11 = Ab root note. Got it????

The ONLY EXCEPTION are those pesky little old SLASH CHORDS. C/G means that they want the Bass player to play a ‘G’ note IN PLACE of the normal ‘C’ root note for the ‘C’ chord. Em/B means that they want the Bass player to play a ‘B’ note IN PLACE of the normal ‘E’ root note for the E minor chord. A ‘space’ and then /G# means that at that point in the song the BASS player is to play a ‘G#’ bass note.

Soooooo those slash chords do not change the chord that the guitar player is to play- to the left of the slash is the chord, to the right of the slash is the Bass note FOR THE BASS PLAYER. C/G=just play a C chord, Em/B= just play an E minor chord, ‘space’ /G# = continue to play whatever chord came before the slash- that G# is not for the guitar player-it’s for the Bass.

Remember you are usually listing to a combination of instruments when you listen to music. The most basic being: a guitar and bass- so when you look at music it is ALWAYS written for that combination. (Piano players have the luxury of being able to play both chords AND bass.) Just play the chord that’s to the left of the slash. If you are by yourself and trying to imitate the sound on a recording and you see a slash chord it will only sound ‘close ‘ until you sit down with the bass player – then between the two instruments you will be able to recreate the exact sound of the ‘slash’ chord. Or you could just learn to play piano but that would put me out of a job. Good Luck.

Part 2: Playing Slash Chords 

  If you read part one of this article, you now know that when you see C/G, it means that to the left of the slash is a Chord and to the right of the slash is an alternate Bass note– thus it is pronounced: 

C major chord with a G bass note (or C with a G bass)

 In Part 1, I stated that the only way to play this correctly is to have TWO instruments. The guitar player would play a C chord and the Bass player would play a G note BUT– for the intermediate to advanced guitar player– you CAN play this on one guitar. Here is one way to play and finger this chord:

Diagram 1: C/G

Please keep in mind that there are lots of different ways to ‘finger’ any  chord. Believe it or not, there can be can be as many as 26 ways to ‘finger’ any one chord on the guitar

I try to teach my students at least 3 ways to play a chord, depending on their level.

  1. a fingering within the first 4 frets that uses one or more open strings.  See Diagram 1
  2.  a movable ‘bar’ form with its root on the A string. The root is on the 3rd fret of the A string (not fingered nor played).
  3. a movable ‘bar’ form with its root on the E string.  The root is on the 8th fret of the Low E. (not fingered nor played).

Keep in mind that because of the ‘alternate Bass’ note, we do not play the root note when ‘voicing’ or ‘fingering’ these types of chords. We take it out. There should be a dead or muted string between the new Bass note and the rest of the chord. That will help ring out the new bass note.

(Go back to my Part 1 if you do not know what a root is.)

Another very popular Chord:

E/G#        (E or E major chord with a G# Bass)

Try this fingering:

Diagram 2: E/G#

    Listen to Eric Clapton ‘Tears in Heaven’ – these are the first 3 chords

     A                                        E/G#                F#m   

             Would     you          know     my     name? 

Remember -if you have a Bass player -the Guitar can just play:

A        E     F#m                                                                                                                

The bass player will hit the G# over the E chord resulting in the correct sound. If you want to play the song with just one guitar, you will need to put in the correct voicing (or fingering) of the chords to get the sound of the recording. (Voicing is the order of notes in the chord-as beginning guitar players we are just concerned with fingering) I don’t care about the theory right now–I just wanna play my guitar!

How ‘bout this one:   

D/F#          (D with an F# bass)

Diagram 3: D/F#

Lots of Songs:  First 3 chords to ‘American Pie’:

         G           D/F#         Em 

 A     long    long       time      ago 

and ‘Free Bird’:

  G              D/F#               Em  

     If    I   leave    here     tomorrow 

Or as I teach my beginning students the above songs, I use these easy to play chords. (less fingers are used.)

G6           D6/F#            Em7

G6 (a 2-finger chord) substitutes for G (a 3-finger chord)

D6/F# (3 fingers) substitutes for D/F# (4 fingers)

Em7 (1-finger) substitutes for Em (2 fingers)

They still retain the correct sound of the substituted chord but are far less difficult to play/learn because less fingers are used. This method is called “Chord Substitution by Family.”

    Try the above songs with these simplified chords- pretty close to the sound on the recording, no?  For the beginning Guitarist, understanding Chord Substitution by learning these simplified chords, can really make it easy to learn songs that use more difficult chords (3 and 4 finger chords) and still sound pretty authentic.

Sometimes, the alternate Bass note is notated with just the ‘slash’ as in: The first 4 chords of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’

        Am                  /G                                        /F#                                      F

I     look     at       you        all      see    the      love      there    that’s   sleeping  

You would interpret the music as thus:

Am      Am/G        Am/F#       F  

Diagram 4: Am/G

OK- that should help you out next time you come across ‘slash’ chords. (But please call them by there correct name)

Questions, comments?  Get back to me and I will try my best to answer them.

Stephen Kleiman

  April 2020

Composition Teacher, Voice, Piano Lessons

Theory, Composition and More – Lessons with Annabelle Corrigan at Philly Music Lessons

piano teachers, vocal coachWe’re pleased to announce Annabelle Corrigan as the latest addition of teachers at Philly Music Lessons (piano lessons, voice lessons, and studies in music theory & composition). Annabelle lives in the ‘hood (Fishtown, that is), right down the street! She’s soon to join the ranks of Temple alumni (alongside many of our teachers), as she will be graduating in May from the Boyer College of Music with a degree in theory and composition. Annabelle also has her associates in piano performance and has studied voice as well. For students looking to learn piano or voice, or for those who want to explore music theory, Annabelle is a great guide – especially for those with an interest in songwriting or who want a deeper understanding of music (theory). Annabelle spends a lot of time composing, and her experience studying at a high level enables her to work with a wide variety of interests. Her own interests have taken her from opera, to classical, to jazz, film scores, and more. Schedule a Lesson

When did you begin playing [instrument], and why?:
I’ve been singing since I was about 8. I began to play piano when I was a teenager, because many of my classmates were really good at piano or some other instrument, and it inspired me to be like them.

What are your personal goals as a musician?:
I love opera, and my goal is to compose my own. I plan on working closely with the librettist, since I’m a poet as well.

Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?:
I never knew what perfect pitch was until I was much older. I also didn’t realize I had perfect pitch until a professor at an audition made me aware of my ability. Since then, it’s become a wonderful tool.

What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?:
Being compassionate with a student will allow them to fearlessly open up to their potentials.

What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?:
In the winter months, my body feels tight and cold, and sometimes this causes tension during playing or singing. That’s why to me it’s important to work in a warm environment, do proper daily stretching, and have a healthy lifestyle (good diet, exercise, proper sleep).

What is your biggest musical achievement?:
Composing a fugue.

Favorite thing about teaching?:
I love sharing my passion for music with other human beings.

What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?:
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Music is meant to be fun, enjoy it!

Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc. (if any):
I am in the process of composing a work for my sister’s wedding. Additional compositions underway, member of American Composer’s Forum, member of Contemplum (composition club at Temple), participant in the Oticons Film Score Contest.


Annabelle Corrigan’s Bio
I have always been involved with sounds and music from an early age. My greatest forte is my ability to hear. When I was young, people thought I might become a voice actor, because my skill at replicating voices was quite apparent. Still, I loved to sing and had been regularly involved in choirs. I dabbled in violin in the fifth grade, but I didn’t feel a “click.” Without despairing, I tried my luck with piano and felt instantly in sync. I knew this was the right instrument for me. During my piano studies, I continued to work on my voice. In addition, I studied the workings of a sound board, and was head sound chief at my high school. At the college level, I began to pursue composition, while still continuing with my piano and vocal studies. I hold an associate degree in music, piano performance, and I am currently working towards my degree in music theory and composition. I will be graduating from Temple University this coming May. I have been teaching music since 2006 and have worked with a wide range of ages and various group sizes. My joy is working with people in a field that I’m passionate about. My interests include music (jazz, classical, opera, new age), ballet, composition, yoga, meditation, going to the gym, hiking and camping, scuba-diving, sailing,Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, cooking and baking, film-editing, sound engineering, poetry, reading good books, building websites, and watching documentaries.

Why Learning Piano Can Help You Advance as a Guitarist

7442374So you’ve been playing guitar for a couple years now, and you’ve got all the basic techniques down.  Bar chords are no problem, you can solo with the major and minor pentatonic and blues scales, and maybe you’ve even gotten into learning some 7th chords or rootless voicings.  Now the question becomes: do you know what you’re playing and why you’re playing it?  This is where music theory comes into the equation.  If you want to better understand chord makeups, chord progressions, and what scales and melodies can work over them, then you have to start to understand at least the basics of music theory.  Applying what you learn from theory can open up new worlds of possibility in your playing and composing, and can really help spur on some periods of creativity and inventiveness.  However, tackling these concepts immediately on the guitar can prove a daunting task because of how string instruments are constructed, so I recommend learning some basic piano.

But I’m a guitar player you say!  Why should I learn piano?  Well, piano really is the ultimate theory and composition instrument because of how logically it’s laid out for you.  (Disclaimer: If you haven’t done so already, you’re going to want to learn how to read notes on the guitar so that translating what you learn on the piano to the guitar won’t be so difficult.  I personally recommend starting with Mel Bay’s Modern Guitar Method: Grade 1, and then moving onto Berklee Press: A Modern Method for Guitar, Volume 1.) Even getting through just the first half of one of these books with a good teacher should at least give you the foundation to figure out how to translate notes from the piano to the guitar.  For example, you might see something as follows when you first begin learning theory, and if you don’t know the notes on the treble clef it’s almost impossible to understand.  It explains the order of half steps and whole steps which constitutes the major scale in any key.



Continue reading to find out why the piano is such a great tool for learning music theory