While the guitar can be a great instrument for playing lead lines and riffs, it’s also very well suited to playing chords. There are so many different guitar chords out there, you can get completely lost (in a good way) diving into different voicings, additions, subtractions, and more. Each different chord type has its own unique sound that can add tons of colour and flavour to an otherwise simple song.
This article will be talking about slash chords on guitar. It assumes you already know your basic open guitar chords as well as how to read guitar chord diagrams. If you’re coming to this article not knowing your basics, perhaps get comfortable with the normal shapes before you jump into slash chords. They’re not more/less difficult or anything, just know the basics first is all. While not mandatory, I also suggest you get to know your barre chord shapes before jumping into these slash chords. These will give you a better understanding of the chord shapes as a whole.
So let’s jump into slash chords for the guitar. What they are, how to play them, and an introduction on how to use them.
What Is A Slash Chord?
A slash chord is a chord with a slash in the name. When reading chord charts you may see something like C/G. This C/G chord would be called either a “C slash G” chord or a “C over G” chord. If you want to say all the words, you could also say “C over a G bass.”
What this means, in this example, is that you would be playing a C chord with a G in the bass. This does not mean play a C or a G. It also doesn’t mean play a G with a C bass. These are both things that confuse people. Just play a C chord, but stick a G in the bass.
For people just starting out on guitar, slash chords can be a little confusing, so it’s fine to just play the normal chord as you’re learning. As you get to know your guitar scales, your chord anatomy, and also how to find notes on the guitar, quickly making sense of and playing slash chords will become easier.
A lot of the time a slash chord will stick the 3rd or the 5th in the bass, rather than the root, but not all if the time. It’s not uncommon to see a 7th in the bass or really any degree of the scale.
But let’s get your started with a few common slash chords just so you have a few under your belt.
How To Play A Slash Chord In A Song
Before going into the actual chord shapes, let’s go through how to actually play/strum a slash chord playing a song.
One more obvious way of playing a slash chord on guitar is to just strum away at it. This works, but the base may not come through as much as you’d like it to. Because of this, an alternative is to play a rhythm that just plucks the bass then strums the chords. Try it in eighth notes: bass-strum-bass-strum and so on. It sounds great!
Alternatively, use a slash chord as a passing chord to add some interest in a chord change. For example, if you’re changing from a G chord to a C chord, play a G/B on the last beat before you change to the C. This gives a nice little bass line that walks up to the C.
Finally, a slash chord can be used simply to make some chord changes easier. If your fingers “just can’t get there in time,” stop and think about an alternative bass note you can play that may make things a little easier.
Common Slash Chords On The Guitar
The following are slash chords you’ll commonly find on guitar. While you can play guitar in any key, standard guitar tuning lends itself to specific keys; namely E, A, D, G, and C because these are simple open chords on the instrument. This means that music and chord progressions that are written for the guitar will more likely be using chords from these keys and therefore more likely be using the slash chords mentioned below.
This article is only going to go through some of the more common slash chords, but once you get started, you can easily find any of the less common slash chords as well.
G/B Slash Chord On Guitar
It may be a bit difficult, at first, to not play the 6th string, but you can mute it with your second finger while it frets the 5th string.
Another fun thing to do with a G/B is to alternate between a straight G and a G/B to make a 1-3 bass like as you strum along.
G/F# Slash Chord On Guitar
One tip on this chord is that fretting the 3rd fret on the 2nd string is somewhat optional. Fretting is like this makes it so that there’s no 3rd (major or minor) in this chord, giving it a more neutral feel that goes well with the 7th in the bass. Feel free to include the 3rd though as needed.
You’ll see more slash chords that feature the 3rd or the 5th of the scale, yes, but I figured I’d put this here because it’s common enough and I’ve just talked about the G/B, so I figured I’d do this one next!
C/E Slash Chord On Guitar
So what’s the difference between a straight C chord and a C/E? Well, not much… you’re still putting your fingers in the same place. You’re just playing all six strings instead of just five.
Not all slash chords are this simple on guitar, but you need to start somewhere.
C/G Slash Chord On Guitar
As an alternative to the figure shown, I also sometimes like to play the C as normal then play a C/G by playing the G on the 3rd fret of the 6th string with my third finger while muting the 5th string. Go back and forth between the 5th and 6th strings to create a 1-5 bass line that chugs along nicely over the C chord.
A/E Slash Chord On Guitar
One slight difference is that I’m suggesting muting the 5th string (you can do this with your second finger) otherwise things can get a little heavy in the bass. Try it with the open 5th string though. See what you prefer.
Like with other slash chords, you can just strum away on this one if that’s what you want to do/the sound you’re going for, but it’s also nice to create a 1-5 bass line by going between the A and E bass notes in the chord.
Alternatively, an A/E can be a basic transition to an E chord or even a D chord if you want some colour of jumping around on the bass a little bit.
All in all, there’s a lot you can do with a chord like this.
D/A Slash Chord On Guitar
While you could technically play the low E as well for a D/E chord (while also playing the A), it’s not really used. E is the 2nd of D, so you’d be in tune, but it’s more getting into the realm of being lazy rather than playing an interesting chord. Unless you really know what you’re doing that is. Also, you may be moving too far away from a D for it too really be a D chord anymore. I’m not going to do the analysis to figure out what chord it would be, but it may have the quality of a different chord.
D/F# Slash Chord On Guitar
This chord is a little bit different because you’re fretting the 6th string with your thumb. This may be a little “improper” by more classical methods, but perfectly acceptable for more popular styles of guitar. So throw your thumb over the neck and use to fret the F#.
This is one of my favourite slash chords to play because it’s something you can just chug away on. Notice in the diagram that it’s not saying to mute the A string because, as noted on the previous chord, the A is the 5th of D. This is just the D played upside down. However, you can mute the A with your thumb if you like.
Finding Other Slash Chords On Guitar
So there’s six slash chords for the guitar to get you started. This guitar lesson should have not only given you some basic slash chord shapes, but also gotten you thinking about finding alternative notes around the scale for a given chord shape. From there, finding other slash chords should be pretty easy. All it is is sticking a different note in the bass.
So, let’s say you’re confronted by an Em/G. I haven’t given you a chord diagram for that. Where’s the G? 3rd fret, 6th string. Now you can play an Em/G. Alternatively, just look at the chord shape you’re playing and add/remove strings as needed. If you’re starting to play slash chords, you’re ready to start exploring the fretboard a bit too!
Next up, explore how you can use slash chords to transition between chords on guitar. Here I give a few chord progressions with ideas on playing bass lines as you strum the chords of a song.