MUSIC THEORY—Inversions and Slash Chords

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             Inversions and slash chords are somewhat related. Some slash chords are inversions and inversions are always slash chords. Slash chords give the bass players and guitarists some idea of what to play whereas inversions are ways to voice chords in order to give a composition a certain feel.

 

             Let’s go back to chord structure to understand what inversions are. A major or minor chord is built upon the root, a third (major or minor) and the fifth note of the scale of the root. Inversions are formed when either the third or the fifth is lowest note of the chord. A C major chord with the C as the lowest note is known as root position whereas C major chord with the 3rd (E) as the lowest note is known as the first inversion. Using the 5th (G) as the lowest note results in the second inversion. One way to use inversions is to have the bass note of the chord move in an ascending or descending fashion. In a I-IV V progression, for instance you could have the bass note of the chord play a descending and then ascending pattern.

 

             Slash chords are notated by the chord symbol followed by a slash, followed by a note name (slash note), such as C/E or D/F#. Ideally, the note name that follows the slash should be the lowest note of the chord. Also, the note name following the slash doesn’t have to be a note that’s in the chord. You can have a A/G# or a Bmin7/A and so on. Some of those chords aren’t very easy (if impossible) to play on guitar. In that case, the guitarist has the flexibility of choosing to play the individual notes of the slash chords as arpeggios or to only play the notes that outline the chord name in front of the slash and let the bass player play the slash notes. Given that keyboardists have 10 fingers (well, most of them) they can play all the notes in the chord and also play around with inversions of the chord while playing the slash note in the left hand.

 

             Another interesting thing about slash chords is that the are really just extended chords notated differently. A C/Bb is a Cmajor7 with the major 7th being the lowest note while a D/C# is a C7 with the dominant 7th as the lowest note.. A7/B is A9 or G6(b5)add9 or Emsus4 6 and so on.  The note used as the root note determines the spelling of the chord. I found a cool gadget on iGoogle that allows you to put the fingering of the chord in and then it tells you the name(s) of the chord and then you can hear what it sounds like. I’ve actually composed some progressions on it. Look for the Guitar Chord Finder by ZIKNIF.

 

             I realized that in the process of discussing extended chords that I left out a couple of types of chords that are very relevant—the 5 chord and the 6th chord. The 5 chord is simply the 1st and 5th of the scale of the root note. There’s no 3rd to determine major or minor so you can’t really typify it as either. It’s mostly used in rock music with the most notable example being every music store employee’s favorite – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. The interesting  thing is that most everyone plays it the wrong way. Richie Blackmore said in a article I read years ago that he actually played an inversion of the 5 chord so that the 5th was the lowest note. You play it by using one finger to barre the 2nd and 3rd strings and then play the riff using the 2 notes you’re holding down with one finger. Playing two notes at the same time is known as a double stop and comes from classical violin.

 

             6th chords simply add the 6th note of the scale to the chord and are really just another way to notate minor 7ths since a 6th chord has exactly the same notes as a m7 chord. Do you remember the article that discussed modes some time back? The Aeolean mode is what’s called the relative minor scale of the major scale. The way to determine which minor 7th chord relates to a 6th chord is to determine what the root note is of the relative minor of the scale of the 6th chord. That’s the root note of the minor 7th chord. So G6 is the same as Em7 and D6 is the same as Bm7 and so on. After you learn all the relative minors for all the major scales, you can flip the chord in your brain to the m7 chord if you don’t know how to play a F#6 and vice versa.. Another variation on the 6th chord is the 6/9. This is just the 6th chord with an added 9th and is also the same chord as the m11th chord of the relative minor. It has a kind of jazzy feel to it.

 

Next month—The Circle of 5ths and how to use it to compose.