Lessons in Order
47: Non-Root-Bass Chords
Lessons by Topic
Lesson 47: Non-Root-Bass ChordsThis lesson teaches "slash chords", which are chords which use another note besides the chord's root as the bass note.
Before taking this lesson, you should know:
When a chord is actually played in pop music, usually a bass note is played along with it. The bass note is a low-pitched note a good pitch-distance, usually an octave or more, below the other "mid-range" chord notes.
The bass note is the most important note in the chord for creating the chord's overall "feel". Usually, the bass note is the chord's root (the pitch the chord is named after); when this happens we say that the chord is in root position. But sometimes, some other note, a non-root bass note, is played as the bass note instead.
There is a special chord symbol called a "slash chord" to show when the bass note is not the root. In a slash chord, the symbol before the slash can be any chord symbol, and the note-name after the slash is the non-root bass note. For example, this chord symbol:
... is a C major triad played in the midrange, along with an E note as the bass note. We use the word "over" for the slash, so we say the above chord as "C over E". Here's a more complex example:
The above is "B-flat minor 7 over A-flat".
Inversions vs. non-chord bass:
When the non-root bass note is one of the notes of the midrange chord, this is called a chord inversion. But the bass note might not be a note from the midrange chord at all; i.e., a non-chord bass note. You want to notice which one you have—an inversion or a non-chord bass note—when you're analyzing or creating slash chords, because non-chord bass notes work well only in more specialized situations, compared to inversions.
Chord Symbols for Playing vs. Analyzing
Sometimes a single chord (which is really, after all, just a certain set of pitches) can have two different chord symbols, and one symbol might be better for showing how to play the chord, while another symbol might be better for analyzing the chord (understanding how it sounds). For example, here's a chord symbol for playing:
This is simple to play: just an F major triad (f, a, c) in the midrange, over a D bass note. But if you combine these, then what you actually hear is the notes:
d f a c
This is a Dm7 ("D minor 7th") chord. Since it's a root-position chord, Dm7 is probably a better chord symbol than F/D for analyzing this chord.
Sometimes even a non-chord bass note can turn out to "analyze" as a more complex root-position chord. Here's an example:
This appears to be a non-chord bass note, because the bass note D is not a pitch in the midrange C chord. But, the combined notes (which I'm re-ordering to help the analysis) are:
d, g c e
This is one of the possible voicings of the D7sus4(9) chord, which is a chord we haven't studied yet, but D7sus4(9) is probably the best chord symbol for analyzing this chord (showing how it functions in a song).
If you understand slash chords, then you can see one actually used in a song in Lesson 48: Embellishing Tones.