You are on page 1of 6

Triads Over Bass Notes An

Explanation
Triads over Bass Notes An
Explanation
by Pete Sklaroff
Triads played over single bass notes (sometimes also termed slash chords) have
been a constituent part of popular music and jazz harmony for many years, but
they still puzzle many players as to their application and actual function in
harmonic terms. Hopefully this lesson will go someway in demystifying these
chords and offer you a way to employ them in your own music, and perhaps also
negotiate playing over them in improvisational terms too.
It should also be noted that triads over bass notes are not to be confused with
playing two triads one over another, which is a completely different area of
harmony and which Ill maybe cover in a later lesson. This article focuses on the
use of major triads played over different bass notes but you can in fact employ
any triadic type in this fashion, creating a whole series of quite unique sounding
voicings that can be used in place of more conventional chord forms.
For this lesson lets examine a very common harmonic sequence in jazz music, the
IIm7 V7 IM7 progression where we might begin with employing triads over
bass notes. Illustrated below in the key of C Major (in chord symbols) is the
approach that many players would employ for the chord progression using
conventional harmonic thinking and chord forms.
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

In jazz circles, this simple progression is often diatonically extended or even


chromatically altered to create more colour and tension, especially between the
V7 chord and the tonic major chord. See below.

Dm9 G7(alt) Cmaj9

This enhanced version of the IIm7 V7 IM7 progression provides us with a


great opportunity to use triads over bass notes and illustrated below is a resulting
harmonization.

F/D E/G G/C

So why are we using these particular chords? The answer lies in the sound they
imply over the original harmony and this is where many players become confused
as to the use of triads over bass notes. To explain further, lets examine in more
detail what is happening here.

Traditional thinking with harmony often tells us that you have to have particular
pitches contained within a chord structure to fully realize its sound and
individual harmonic character, however that isnt always the case and as well
see, these triads over bass notes often suggest a chord sound rather than fully
realize every possible pitch that the chord could contain.

In the last example above Ive used an F major triad over a D bass note instead of
the original Dm7 chord, which gives us the pitches: D F A and C. This actually
spells out a Dm7 chord in full, as the combination of a Root, m3rd, 5th and b7th
supplies all the required pitches to create a minor 7th chord.

The situation changes slightly however when we arrive at the dominant 7th chord
(V7) within the progression, as here we are using an E major triad over a G bass
note. The pitches produced are: G E Ab and B, which doesnt immediately suggest
a G7 chord as there is no b7 present (F).

What is actually happening here is that we are implying the sound of an altered

dominant 7 th chord. If we assume that the chord is functioning as an altered


dominant chord we can explain the use of the E major triad as giving us a 13th, b9
and 3rd, even though the expected b7 isnt present. In short and simple terms, this
voicing works because we are hearing it in a harmonic context, so the lack of the
expected b7 isnt an issue.

The final triad over bass note we are employing is over the tonic major 7th chord
and here we used a G major triad over a C bass note. This gives us the following
pitches: C G B D. In the context of a C major chord, we now have a Root, 5 th,
major 7th and 9th. Youll also see that there is no 3rd present within this voicing but
as with the previous chord, it isnt a problem because we hear the voicing in
context within the overall progression.

That about wraps things up then for this short lesson on triads over bass notes,
but there is much more that can be achieved with them in many functional
harmonic progressions. Ive included a sheet here as well, which covers all the 12
major triad over bass note voicings and their most common applications. I hope
you find it useful in your musical explorations.

Happy practicing
Pete Sklaroff

Pete Sklaroff is one of the top guitar educators in the UK The Teachers
Teacher. He is currently offering 1 hour Skype lessons at the crazy price of 30
an hour which includes PDFs and video examples of everything covered in
lessons.