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Piano Fact

Week 26: Five Slash Chord Playing Strategies

In our previous installment (Week 25) we introduced you to slash chords. By so doing we introduced a third component to a song — the bass line. While all songs have melodies and chords, some songs have a distinctive bass part as well. Often this bass part is indicated in chord music by using slash chords — the element on the right side of the slash being the bass note.

For example, the symbol Bb/C means to play the B flat major chord at the same time one plays the C note in the bass region of the piano. When we also have a melody going on, it means one has to play three different components simultaneously. Since the typical piano player has only two hands, how can this be accomplished? Here are a few strategies.

1) Hire a bass player. Granted, this is a cop out. But bear in mind that is one of the reasons we have bass players in our bands. And if you are lucky enough to have a good bass player in your band, let him play the bass parts by himself. He doesn’t need competition from you.

2) Use your left hand for the bass line, your right hand for the chords, and SING the melody.

What about the solo piano player?

3) Learn to play chords with your right hand and invert each chord in such a way as to have the melody note always on top. Then your left hand can play the bass notes. I admit that this strategy is much easier said than done. Voice leading chords with the melody on top takes years of experience. I know of no shortcuts unfortunately.

4) Have your left hand share the responsibilities of playing bass notes and chords. The basic strategy here is to play the bass note on the first beat of the measure, then the chord later on in the measure. In 4/4 time the chord could come on the third beat while the bass note is on the first. Or the bass notes could be on one and three while the chord comes on two and four. Let your ear decide what sounds best.

5) If you are a beginner to the piano, you can just ignore the bass note in the slash chord notation. To a beginner the Bb/C would mean simply to play the B flat major chord and forget about adding the C bass to it.

What bass note do you play when you see just a regular chord instead of a slash chord? The root.

When using strategy #4, you may notice when your left hand leaves the root in the lower region of the keyboard to play the chord in the center section, you leave a noticeable sound gap. This gap can be filled by using the sustain pedal BRIEFLY. Just hold it down long enough to fill the sound gap. Release it as you strike the chord.

By the way most vertical pianos and some baby grands have a pedal (usually the one in the middle) that sustains only the bass notes. You might want to experiment using this pedal. Almost nobody does.

For further information on advanced chords, including slash chords, see our program Power Chords.

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