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Slash Chords or Altered Bass Chords
Sometimes you will see this kind of notation: C/E. It may look like a fraction, but it is called a “slash chord” or an altered bass chord. The first letter names the chord. The second letter tells what tone is to be the lowest tone of the chord. Arrangers use this notation when they want chords to be played in a specific inversion. More often than not the arranger is not so much interested in an inversion but wants a tone played in the bass that is not a member of the chord. You might see Asus4/D. That would imply an Asus4 chord with the D tone played in the bass.
This technique is used to achieve three purposes. It may be a voicing instruction to the player. It may build tension in the music by forcing tones into the chord that are not usually there. It may provide a sense of movement.
Bass voices are mostly thought to anchor music both rhythmically and harmonically. They are stabilizing influences. But, just as importantly, they move the music. Bass lines often lead harmonic progressions from one chord to another or predict the introduction of melody. Very often these lines are short scales.
The dulcimer can imitate bass lines by using slash chords. In the key of D a walking bass line can be imitated by playing the following sequence of chords: D/D D/C# D/B D/A G. Click here to see this walking bass line written in standard notation.
The chord progression is a simple movement from a D chord to a G chord over four beats. It could be written: D G. But the bass line adds power to it. That voice is a scale: D C# B A G. These tones are often, but not always, played in the lowest register. The effect can work in high voices, too.
For simplicity, the example is shown using only three chord tones. Depending upon the tempo and meter of the piece, it may be desirable and practical to use four or more tones.
Slash chords are usually played on the dulcimer by sounding each tone of the chord from low to high. That style is called arpeggio. Guitar players often play arpeggiated chords to support ballads.
This walking bass series of slash chords moving the music from D to G (or a similar transition in different keys) is found in many popular tunes. Think of Tennessee Waltz or Mr. Bo Jangles and you’ll recognize the sound.