Basslesson: Slash Chords and Chord Inversions

Sometimes a requested song can become a good starting point for discussing a more general aspect of bass playing. This is true for last weeks request, because the song “Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson contains a few of so called Slash Chords, which gives me the chance to lecture a bit on this issue.

Fig. 1.1. Chord Progression with Slash Chords
G/D and Em/D are called slash chords.
Understanding how to read these chords is fairly simple: the letter to the left of the slash is the type of chord (major, minor, seventh-chord etc.) and the note right of the slash is the bass note to be played with this chord.

G/D for example is a G major chord with the note D played in bass.

There are two different kinds of slash chords:

A) Slash chords with a bassnote that is contained in the overlying chord:
The G major triad is comprised of the three notes G, B and D. In G/D you play the note D as lowest tone. As D is part of the chord you call this a chord inversion, because you simply rearrange the notes of a given chord:

Fig. 1.2. Inversions of the g major chord

Now let’s look at another kind of slash chord.
B) Slash chords where the bassnote is not part of the overlying triad:
An example of this would be Em/D. The E minor triad contains the notes E, G and B, the bass note D is not part of the chord and thus an extra tone is added to the sound of the triad.

As you can see in Fig. 1.1 both kind of slash chords are included in the chord progression of “Higher and Higher”.

I picked out 3 songs to show you how and why slash chords are used.
There are in fact three compositional concepts of using slash chords.

1. Pedal tones
Repeating a single bass note over changing chords is called a pedal tone.

A good example for this is the bassline to the song “Feels Like The First Time” by Foreigner:

While the chords are changing from G to F to Am and back to G the Bass stays persistently on the G pedal tone.

The next slash chords concept is very similiar to pedal tones:

2. Ostinato basslines
An ostinato is little riff or melodic figure that is repeated over changing chords.

To exemplify this concept we take a look at the song “Under Pressure” by Queen.

You can see that the rhythmic pattern of the notes D and A is repeated while the chords change from D to A to G and to A.

The third concept featuring slash chords is called

3. Descending Bassline Progressions

Let’s look at the Intro of the Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps”:

In the first line of the Intro the chord progression Am - Am - D - F is smoothed out by the descending bassline-tones A-G-F#-F resulting in the slash chord progression Am - Am/G - D/F# - F.

In the verses of “Under Pressure” we also find a descending bassline:

Now here's the full transcriptions to all three songs:

I transcribed the album version of the song from Foreigner's debut from 1977. Note that the video shows the shorter single version, where the first 4 bars of the Bridge and the first 4 bars of the Interlude are omitted.

This song is almost entirely played with bass pedals. The verses and chorusses have a G pedal tone while the prechorus has A and B bass pedals.

You can find a harmonic analysis of that song here.

A harmonic analysis to this classic Beatles tune can be found here.
I hope you enjoyed this basslesson and if you have a question or request please email me at tom@four-strings.de



Weekly Basslines #111: Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love (Van Halen)

It's been requested at the talkbass-forum and I'm glad to help. I transcribed this songs for a student of mine a few years ago. Here it is:

You'll have to tune down the bass a halft step (Eb, Ab, Db, Gb ) to play to the original song.

Have Fun!


Weekly Basslines #110: Higher And Higher (Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Jimmy Barnes, Rita Coolidge)

This post was initially caused by a request in an australian bass forum, where a member asked for the bassline to the song "Higher and Higher" in the version done by australian singer Jimmy Barnes. Curious about that version I looked for it on YouTube realizing that it seemed to be very similiar to the widely known version from Jackie Wilson. I then decided to have the basslines analyzed in detail. I quickly noticed that this could be very revealing in terms of different approaches to bassline-building. Hence I was looking for more versions of this song and finally decided to share my findings with you.

Comparing different versions of a song is something I sometimes recommend to my students in order to learn how to vary a given bassline without changing it's fundamental groove and feel too much. Often enough even subtle changes can lead to a more vibrant performance, especially in rather repetitive basslines.

Let's start by looking at the most famous version by Jackie Wilson from 1967. According to wikipedia the bass was played by the great James Jamerson.

What a cool groovy bassline!!
The second version I want to look at is from Otis Redding (bass probably played by Duck Dunn):

Let's have a look at the differences:
The persistent repetitive bassline of the Jamerson bassline is broken up by having a different pattern for the verses, which results in more contrast between choruses and verses. Note how the dotted quarter-note-pattern persists in the verse bassline. This is good example for keeping a fundamental groove, while varying a bassline.

Let's have a short look at the above-mentoined Jimmy Barnes version:

 As you can see there's only a slight rhythmic change to Jamerson's Bassline.

Apart from the discussed differences these three versions also have a few things in common:
- the tempo: ranging between 184bpm to 192bpm they're all up-tempo
- the key is D major (the Otis Redding version has a key change to Eb towards the end)

A remarkably slower tempo (120bpm) has the 1977 version from Rita Coolidge:

Besides the poor audio quality of the video, it's also pitched up a semitone. My original recording starts with the key of Db major and then moves up a semitone twice during the song resulting in Eb major at the end.

There are much more cover-versions of that song. During my investigation I stumbled across a very interesting website called "Second Hand Songs" which is a database of cover songs. For "Higher and Higher" there are 26 versions listed, some of them directly linked with YouTube clips to watch.
Have a look yourself:

I hope you found this post informative, useful and entertaining. If so I might consider doing more "Second-Hand-Songs-Investigations".



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▪ optimized, auto-scrolling sheet music
▪ visual notes and beat guidance by cursor
▪ example videos to show the techniques of playing
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▪ acoustic metronome in three different sounds
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Weekly Basslines #109: Lass die Musik an (Madsen)

Gestern abend erhielt ich eine Spende aus Essen und heute morgen habe ich mich bei einer Kanne Kaffee hingesetzt, um einen Wunschsong als Dankeschön für die Spende zu transkribieren. Und hier ist er:

Die Band Madsen ist ein Famillienunternehmen, denn 3 der vier Bandmitglieder sind Brüder (Sebastian, Johannes und Sascha Madsen; daher auch der Bandname). Der Titel "Lass die Musik an" stammt vom aktuellen Album "Wo es beginnt" (2012) und steht in der Tonart F-Moll. Bassist Niko Maurer spielt hier mit Plektrum.

Nochmals vielen Dank für die Spende nach Essen und viel Sbass mit dem Song!