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Multiple(?) chord question. When it shows say G/A the bass line shows A?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by russosborne, May 16, 2017.

  1. I am looking at a bass songbook for Steely Dan (don't ask why, I don't know, curious I guess)(the paperback is cheaper than the Kindle version, that got my attention) and noticed that the song Deacon Blues (amazon has this as part of the sample you can see) has a lot of chords that I won't try to type out here, but the G/A one is a simple example. A lot of the others are like Fadd9/A (or worse, to me).

    What is the G/A( or the other ones) telling me? I noticed that in all these dual (?) chord things (sorry, no clue what the correct term is) that it has the root from the post / chord being played, as the A in my examples above.

  2. craigie


    Nov 11, 2015
    G/A is a G major triad over A root. There's actually a really interesting explanation of that song by Donald Fagen and if some other songs on YouTube.
    SoCal80s and hrodbert696 like this.
  3. Well, that explains why it showed playing the A.:facepalm:
    AshInAmsterdam likes this.
  4. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    usually called "slash chords" for obvious reasons
    some times its a simple chord inversion,
    but just as often it's not immediately obvious how the slash note and the chord relate.
    for bass players it means you darn well better play that slash note and don't over think it.
    Nashrakh and Reedt2000 like this.
  5. Yes when you see a slash chord we play what is after the slash. Makes it rather easy as we get to ignore all the fancy stuff. Moving on.....
  6. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    Sometimes it's an either/or (see what I did there with the /..). For sure the the chord tones in the note after the slash are the deal, but when I am learning a new song at home I always play with both and go with what works best. Rehearsal sometimes changes my mind because it's all about what works best in the mix. Just sayin' sometimes it's good to try both and go with the bester fit.
    osonu likes this.
  7. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Ah the old slash chord. Lots of theoretical fun to be had. As others have mentioned, concretely, the formula is: Chord/Bass Note. So when in doubt, play the note after the slash and all will go well.

    WHY they use slash chords is a bit deeper.
    Reason 1 is pretty simple: to play a chord inversion, usually to make the bassline move more smoothly. Take a C/E slash chord. E is the 3rd of the C chord, so all that means is it's a C chord with the 3rd in the bass as opposed to the usual Root in the bass. If everybody else in the band is playing notes in a C chord, and you the bass player are playing a lower E than anyone else, mission accomplished, you're all playing a first inversion C chord. This is usually used to make a bassline walk smoothly through changes. A classic country and rock example which you have probably already played hundreds of times would be G - D/F# - Em. The cord progression is G - D - Eminor, while the bass politely walks down from G to F# to E. in your example, the Fadd9/A is actually the simpler of the 2 slash chords, since it's just putting a different chord tone in the bass than the expected F. If you told us what chords came before and after, we could probably deduce why he chose to use that inversion, I'll bet it makes the bassline flow smoother, nothing more than that.

    The other use of slash chords is less simple. They're used to create convenient voicings and names of more complex chords. G/A is an excellent example of this. Concretely, that means a G major triad, with an A in the bass. But wait... the note A has nothing to do with a G triad. You might think, well, they're just going for a Gadd9 sound, since A would be the ninth of a G chord. Nope. Putting the A in the bass does not give you that sound, and that's not the intent here. You can't think from G in this case, you have to think from A. G/A is actually a simple way of writing A7sus2sus4(omit5). Or A11(omit 3 omit 5). Or any other messy way of writing the same thing. G/A is a very nice suspended dominant chord voicing, great to use if you're going for a gospel/church music sound, and leads very nicely to D major.

    So to sum this up, if the bass note after the slash is a chord tone, mystery solved, you think from the chord since you're just playing an inversion of that chord. If the chord and the bass note are not related, then you think from the bass note and try to figure out how the chord relates to it. I've googled around a little, and surprisingly, haven't found a single, simple, correct resource on slash chords and their equivalents. Somebody tried on the gear page, but I see at least one error in that list, so I can't recommend it. Anybody else know of one?
  8. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    One correction. The root remains G. It's a G chord with an A in the bass. The chord is named from the root, so the root is G. "Root" is the basis of the chord, not the lowest note being played.

    A good example of the utility of "slash" chords is George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". The first part is an A minor chord over a descending bass line. One could note it as Amin to Amin7 to Amin6 to FMaj7. But writing it as Amin to Amin/G to Amin/F# to FMaj7 or Amin/F) tells everyone exactly what's going on there.
    Last edited: May 17, 2017
  9. AMp'D.2play

    AMp'D.2play Supporting Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    That's a tasty bass line! I take it you're talking about the G/A slash chord(s) that follow the F6 in the verses.

    @Nickweissmusic, if you want to see the context of that G/A, here's an online transcription (props to thebassement): Deacon Blues
    Nickweissmusic likes this.
  10. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    in jazz: it's "G over A." so everyone knows that gtr, keys, horns, etc., are playing in concert G, and the bass player knows to play A 'underneath'. these are common in all genres. just go for the 'bottom' note. but if you move off of the A (to pass), the G informs your choices. you could also write it as A11 no 3rd no 5th = but that could be a 'stupid' move and not correct (contextually) in most cases.

    G is the same as G/A
  11. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Sorry to nitpick, but I'm pretty sure when you have the horizontal bar, it means a polychord, as in, G triad over A triad. I definitely don't come across them very much, can't even remember where or when I learned about the polychord thing, but in all my years of reading jazz charts I have never seen a "horizontal slash."

    I do agree with everything else in that post.
    Bob_Ross and Febs like this.
  12. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    I'll take "the kind of music a keyboard player writes" for a thousand, Alex ;)
  13. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    might want to look at some old handwritten manuscripts = it literally looked like "G over A," like a fraction. i'm thinking modern notation systems/printers (as in typesetting and typewriters) used the 'slash' because it was available, simple, and wouldn't waste space. i'm not sure why i even gave that example: i'm old and i remember cats using that 50 years ago (and they were old timers then!), so it's irrelevant...oh well, sorry. :thumbsup: i don't recall (or not familiar with) your reference.
    Groove Doctor and Nickweissmusic like this.
  14. ElectroVibe


    Mar 2, 2013
    I first learned of what you would call G/A by another name : A11. But G/A makes more sense to me than A11.
  15. ElectroVibe


    Mar 2, 2013
    I have seen it on occasion with the horizontal slash. But not often.
    Nickweissmusic likes this.
  16. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    California Republic
    Back in my R&B days, G/A would have been written as "A11." A super common chord, particularly in turnarounds. In truth, it's root/seventh/ninth/eleventh. Think about the intro to Luther Vandross's "Never Too Much."
    Nickweissmusic likes this.
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Get a keyboard even a dirt cheap POS and start messing around with inverted triad voicings. This will start to open your ears up to what chords sound like with notes other than the root in the bass. You'll want to start adding 7ths too but start with triads.

    As people here are saying there's no one size fits all method for a bass player to approach slash chords. @Nickweissmusic covers a lot in his first post and that's something you can keep coming back to. But without the context of hearing what's going on harmonically trying to comprehend all that he's saying theoretically is likely to be kinda hit and miss. Trying to understand harmony only from playing a limited chording instrument simply isn't very doable. At best it's a painfully slow way but what's more likely is you'll just develop a repertoire of things that work (most of the time) but that you don't completely understand. A bit of work on a keyboard and this stuff gets simple pretty fast.
    TomB, Nashrakh, SteveCS and 1 other person like this.
  18. Thanks, all.
    I knew there was a proper name for these, just couldn't remember. I'm old and have CRS disease.

    As far as inverted chords, that will be another discussion down the road. :laugh: I have enough issues learning regular chords at this point.

    Nickweissmusic likes this.
  19. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Yep... case in point, the use of G/A I mentioned in my post, has nothing to do with how Donald Fagan used it in his song other than using the same notes. You can't think and write that way on a bass, it's hard on guitar too. A $120 Casio keyboard and stand from Costco is all I use to plunk through these chords and see how they make sense. After a few minutes I have a hunch Fagan's use of the G/A may have arisen from a happy slip of the finger onto the "wrong" bass note, or maybe some collaborative goofing around with Becker; the melody only needs the G chord to support it, the A bass note kinda comes out of nowhere. I can't explain it any other way, but it works ;)

    The point is, Keyboards have their own tricks and patterns that you can't really understand until you've tried, and slash chords are especially obtuse on the usual stringed instruments.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  20. Nickweissmusic

    Nickweissmusic Knows all intervals from one Fred, to Juan octave Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2014
    San Diego, CA
    I teach lessons and perform live music in and around San Diego CA. Sometimes I even make money doing it!
    Don't be afraid of the I word! Inversion is just playing the exact same chord notes, reordered. It's nearly the same concept as playing a scale starting from a non-tonic note, and calling it a mode. Play a chord starting from a non-root note, and you have an inversion.

    Here's a C major triad: CEG. That's called "root position," since the root is the lowest note. Root position is the non inverted form.

    If I leapfrog the C over the other 2 notes, we get the first inversion: EGC. Same notes, re ordered! We'll call that C/E since its still a C chord, but the lowest note is now E.

    Now move the E above the other notes: GCE, 2nd inversion. That's all it means.

    In practical usage, we don't even care what order the upper notes are in. All we care about is what the chord is, and what the lowest note is, especially if you are the bass player, since you'll be playing said lowest note. If you want to fill or solo, then you can start worrying about the other notes in the chord.

    FWIW, I've been working in music for 20 years and tutor grad level students in classical and jazz theory from time to time... and Deacon Blues is a bear to analyze. I try to get in the writer's head and understand why people make their chord choices, but sometimes, you just have to chalk it up to "because it sounds cool." And with Steely Dan, you can never count out the "weird for the sake of weird" factor.
    Last edited: May 17, 2017
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