A slash chord is a chord where the bass note is different from the chord root. If you’re not familiar with slash chords already, I suggest reading my introduction to slash chords on guitar. In that article I run through some common slash chords and help readers generally get their head around the chords themselves. After you read that article, you’ll have a better understanding of what a slash chord is and how to play any slash chord you come up against. Then, come on back here and learn about using slash chords to transition between chords.
Transitioning Between Guitar Chords Using Slash Chords
Since playing a slash chord puts a different note in the bass, this creates an excellent opportunity to either add an interesting bass line to a song or add transitional bass notes that either walk up or down to the next chord you’re going to play. This is an important skill to have if you’re playing guitar on your own, since it essentially adds a second instrument: you’re strumming chords while also having a moving bass line going! Playing with the bass also adds a bit of interest to an otherwise simple chord progression on guitar.
There’s no way this article can cover every chord progression out there, but there are some more common chord progressions out there that will be good examples to get you started. Once you tackle these more common chord progressions, it’s important that you don’t just leave it there. As I mentioned, I can’t give you every single chord change that you can add a bass transition to, but this guitar lesson should start to give you some ideas.
Adding A Bass Line To I-IV-V-IV Chord Progressions On Guitar
I-IV-V-IV chord progressions appear a lot on guitar. Not only is it just a simple chord progression that’s suitable to a lot of popular music, it’s also an extremely easy chord progression to play on guitar. Let’s look at the I-IV-V-IV progression on guitar in different keys common to guitar:
With the exception of the chord progressions in E and C, these are all open guitar chord shapes! And, if you’ve seen me talk about barre chords at all, you’ll know F is a basic one that you should learn first.
So let’s tear apart a couple of these chord progressions and find slash chords that will work to transition from chord to chord.
Transitional Bass Notes For An E-A-B-A Chord Progression On Guitar
Looking at the E-A-B-A chord progression, you have something like this if you’re just playing the chords simply:
Notice, when playing the E chord, the note you’re playing on the 5th string, 2nd fret, is both the 5th of E and 2nd of A. This gives you a great opportunity to play a transitional bass note by playing an E/B as you move from E to A in this chord progression.
While you don’t have the same thing for the move from A to B, if you’re playing a bass-strum pattern, you still get a similar effect. Then, to round things out, you can play an A/G (which is putting the b7 in the bass) to transition back to the E. Let’s take a look in eighth notes over a multiple bars:
While this is a relatively simple trick, it shows how you can really open up a bass line in an otherwise basic pattern.
Practice that progression, then try opening it up a little bit more playing different bass notes over a full bar, always using the transitional bass notes as you change chords. While the example shown is showing a bass-strum pattern, you can also just try this with straight strumming of the slash chords. It’s up to you!
Transitional Bass Notes For An G-C-D-C Chord Progression On Guitar
Let’s skip ahead to a G-C-D-C chord progression rather than going through all five I-IV-V-IV progressions. It’s a good exercise to translate the E progression into A and D.
The G-C-D-C progression has a similar trick to use slash chords to add transitional bass notes. Let’s look at the chord progression simply again:
Here you can see the note on the 5th string, 2nd fret of the G chord (a B) is only one fret below the root of C chord, so playing a G/B is a good transition here. Similarly, playing a C/E is a good transition to the D chord. There’s a lot that we can do to add an interesting bass line here:
In the figure, you’ll also notice I’ve thrown in a C/A to loop things back to the G chord at the beginning of the progression.
Once again, practice this as bass-strum as well as just strumming. Then, go ahead an translate this to the C-F-G-F chord progression as well.
These bass lines are simple, but it’s a start to begin understanding you can add some more interesting bass to your strumming and really spice up your playing.
Adding A Bass Line To I-V-vi-IV Chord Progressions On Guitar
Another common chord progression you’ll see is I-V-vi-IV. It’s pretty similar to I-IV-V-IV, but obviously has the vi, which is minor, hence the lower case Roman Numerals. In open keys, the chord progressions are:
There’s a few more barre chords in there, yeah, but, as this is a pretty common progression that takes you out of various I-IV-V patterns, it’s very much worth learning. Obviously the G and the C keys for this progression are the simplest, but the A is pretty friendly too.
So again, let’s look at a couple of these progressions to find some nice slash chords and bass notes to hit.
Transitional Bass Notes For An A-E-F#m-D Chord Progression On Guitar
Let’s take a look at the A-E-F#m-D chord progression and what you can do with it. If you’re just playing the chords straight, here’s what it looks like:
There’s a few things you can do here, and I’m sure you already have a few ideas. The key is to connect everything so the bass sounds like it’s moving with the chord progression, but at the same time it’s its own separate part. The whole thing needs to sound like there’s two instruments in one.
To change things up from the last chord progression, I’d start with just a straight A. Then, for the E chord, I’d move the bass up to an E/B, then a normal E chord to move easily up to the F#m, but two different ways. I also end with a D/C to connect it back to the A chord at the start. This may be overdoing it in places, depending on what you’re playing, but it’s good as an exercise. Check it out:
Notice that on the second F#m, you’re only playing the top four notes. This is also just a tip that you don’t always have to play the full chord. It can sometimes be a good idea to only play part of the full chord either for tone or circumstances like this.
Another advantage of playing a progression like this with slash chords is that it can sometimes make the transitions a little bit easier. Moving from an E to an F#m isn’t the hardest transition, but adding a bass note in between buys a little bit of time.
Transitional Bass Notes For An G-D-Em-C Chord Progression On Guitar
I quite like this specific chord progression, is you check out my ongoing list of easy guitar songs with only open chords, you’ll find Wagon Wheel here, which uses this chord progression. When I play Wagon Wheel, I like to use the bass line that I’ll list below.
But first, let’s look at the chords played just as listed:
Here, you’ll start with a G and a G/B, which moves nicely into a regular D chord, who’s root also happens to be the 5th of G; it’s a natural move through the triad of the G chord for the bass. From there, you’ll play an D/F#, to do this, you want to fret the 6th string with your thumb; this is a great move to have in your arsenal and gets you to the Em. From there, an Em/B walks you up to the C to complete the progression:
Optionally, you can also play a C/E for the last chord. That could work, especially because the rest of the bass line is moving for the other chords in the progression, then just stops on the last chord. Alternatively, stopping it, like I’ve indicated in the figure, could be good to create something different.
Try it both ways and see what you like!
Practice These Progressions Then Go Further
So there are four examples on how to use slash chords in your guitar playing to add better transitions between chords. As mentioned, I can’t run through every scenario to use this technique, but hopefully this slash chord lesson gives you some ideas on what to do with other progressions and songs.
All of this is just a start, but that start needs to be somewhere. Get used to these four examples. Try them with different strumming patterns and then try some other chord progressions. See how you can connect chords through playing slash chords.
From there, try these patterns with arpeggios and finger picking as well. Arpeggio patterns can be great, but they’re spiced up even more with an interesting bass line.
There’s just so much you can do with this.