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Chords like F/G and C/D are really quite common in jazz, blues and soul music yet I have never heard or been able to find a concise name for them.

To be clear, I am referring to any major (or indeed minor) triad with the chord's supertonic in the bass.

I hope someone has heard of a term for these even if it is not an official term.

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I've heard them being (informally) referred to as "church chords". – Johannes Mar 5 at 17:31
I would add this is a Mixolydian chord. In mixo playing the bVII over the root is always a good choice. – Christopher Arensky Mar 15 at 0:38
up vote 7 down vote accepted

These chords are essentially 9sus4 chords. E.g., an F/G has the notes


which are with respect to the root G

1 b7 9 4

The only note missing from a complete G9sus4 chord is the fifth (D). Leaving out the fifth does not change the quality or basic sound of the chord.

You can get the fifth of the G9sus4 chord if you use Dm7/G instead of F/G. However, the function of these two chords is the same and they are interchangeable. You find both versions frequently in jazz lead sheets.

Another frequently used option is to add the major seventh to the top triad, i.e., Fmaj7/G, which would give you a G13sus4 chord.

These chords are used extensively in modern jazz and advanced pop music. Read more about this type of chord in this blog post. The vanilla example for the application of this type of chord is the piece Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock.

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I definitely think that this is the most elegant way to name these chords after reading through all of the responses. Thanks for the answer. – Tim Hargreaves Mar 6 at 15:29
@TimHargreaves: You're welcome. I like the conciseness of the symbol F/G, but G9sus4 is the chord quality I hear. – Matt L. Mar 6 at 15:57
F/G certainly has more of an 'I'm a G sort of chord' than 'I'm a sort of F chord' about it. Pity it hasn't a simple name, starting with 'G'. – Tim Mar 6 at 17:04
@user2808054: There is a chord called 'Fadd2' where you add the 2 to the chord, giving F G A C. The difference is that this chord is perceived as an F major chord with an added color, whereas F/G is perceived as a G chord because of the bass note G. This is all not so obvious, because there are many chord voicings where the bass note is not perceived as the root, but in this case it is. In sum, an added color note (as with Fadd2) is usually not placed in the bass of the chord, because there it might change the function of the chord. – Matt L. Mar 7 at 10:24
That's a great explanation, thanks, although I think Fadd2 would be at the bass note end? (otherwise it's a Fadd9 if an octave up?) but I see the diffference in character of the chord, thanks – user2808054 Mar 7 at 11:19

There isn't really a name for these chords, but there is a reason they are used and that may allude to what someone can call them.

These chords are way more quartal/quintal in nature. Let's look at the F/G and look at how the notes compare to G as looking from the bass note of each and since the 5th of the bass note is typically implied we'll include the D also. Notice how we get a quartal stack of G - C - F and a quintal stack of G - (D) - A looking at G as the bass. We also can add both together so it looks like the quartal stack of F - C - G - (D) - A or the quintal stack of A - (D) - G - C - F. This shows that the chord is completely quartal or quintal in nature

In general quartal and quintal chords don't really have names besides the 6/9 chord which is very quintal in nature. Since the full quartal stack root is also the root note of the chord in the slash chord, I'd call it a second inversion quartal quintad. It's a mouthful, but accurate.

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In a jazz context, Dom's answer is perfect.

However, I also want to say that this chord has become extremely common in pop/rock piano-driven music, for example Elton John, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder. And especially in musical theater of this style, for example Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, and the "straight to off-off-Broadway" duos like Kerrigan-Lowdermilk and Salzman-Cunningham.

In this context, when you have a chord like F/G resolving to C, I think the simplest explanation is that it's primarily an F chord (and thus you have a plagal cadence), with a 5->1 in the bass that strengthens it a bit by adding a bit of dissonance to be resolved, plus outlining an authentic cadence. If you think of it this way, then F/G is really the end of the story. It's an F chord, with a G in the bass.

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IMO this is spot on. I usually don't hear anything Jazzy or quartal in a /2 chord, but simply a mix between dominant and subdominant / plagal cadence. – leftaroundabout Mar 6 at 11:57
I think if my question was slightly different, you would be spot on. I play a lot in musical pit bands and as you stated these chords are used enough to make them a cliche. And again, as you said they are almost always used as a strengthened plagal cadence and that is how I think about them when I use them in harmony. This is still quite a clumsy way to refer to them though so I've marked Matt's answer as the best but you can still have my +1 – Tim Hargreaves Mar 6 at 15:32

It does get called an 11th. As in, for example, E,G#,B over an F# bass is F#11. Not an E based chord as expected, but F# (root), E (b7), G# (9), B (4 or 11) A nice example of several of these is David Nichtern's 'Midnight at the Oasis'.

Another way to look at it is an 'E add 2' chord. In this case, in first inversion, putting the F# at the bottom. Not a sus 2 which takes the 3 out and puts 2 in instead.

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I can see how that is a valid name for it but as I said I'm looking for something precise. I feel like as an F#11 could easily also have an A# and C# which aren't found in the E/F# chord it is too ambiguous to define a chord like E/F# – Tim Hargreaves Mar 5 at 14:30
How about F#11(no 3 or 5). A lot of more complex chords will miss out the 5, although they do need a 3 to determine maj. or min. Can't do better, except 'slash chord'! – Tim Mar 5 at 14:35
I really dislike "no" chord notation as it always screws up what makes that chord so in the original context of the chord is destroyed and there is almost always a better way to look at it. – Dom Mar 5 at 14:37
@Dom - seconded. I suppose it could be construed as an Add2 chord, in its first inversion. (See edit) – Tim Mar 5 at 14:51

They are called "Slash chords". Often they exploit the fact that just about ANYTHING can act as a dominant if rooted strongly by the dominant note. You could analyze all the chords here as some flavour of G chord. But slash notation is much more helpful.

You could also describe this sort of thing as various chords over a "dominant pedal".

enter image description here

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Slash chords, as intimated in my comment, cover a plethora of differently voiced chords. The O.P. asked specifically about slash chords with a supertonic bass note. – Tim Mar 6 at 12:09
F/G will typically act as a dominant in C major. There's some excuse for analyzing it as G9sus4omit5 (technically correct but not terribly helpful). You'll see G11 used, but do we really need a special-case 11th chord that omits the 3rd and 7th? So be grateful for slash notation, which tells us exactly what is to be played! There's no excuse at all for thinking of it as Fadd9 (third inversion). Sometimes the precise terms of a question display the lack of knowledge that prompted it. – Laurence Payne Mar 6 at 16:51
I wouldn't have thought your last sentence will go down well with the O.P., who's a seasoned player! – Tim Mar 6 at 17:00
In that case he KNOWS what those chords do, and it was just a misjudged bit of terminology. Perhaps he's looking for the answer "They're a better way to label what are often erronously called G11 or G7sus". – Laurence Payne Mar 6 at 17:08

I agree - as a genre they are often called slash chords.

Though if you want to instruct someone to play e.g. F/G - you could say play "an F over G". I've heard a few people use this.

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