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Here's an example I just found online and there are many more in jazz lead sheets I found, etc. I was also wondering, when I'm writing a lead sheet and there are sections that are just instrumentals, do I put these lines, or not? What do the lines mean?


3 Answers 3


They're basically the rhythm pattern , the chords played essentially on guitar, but could be vamped on piano. They're sort of musical notes (crotchets), with no tails. Simply put, 4 in the bar. When I say basically, I mean a good start point for rhythm, signifying the simplest form the rhythm of that part can be. Of course, more accomplished players will extemporise on that, as and when the song calls for that.

No-one knows if the song's rhythm is straight or swung from that alone. Notice that in the end bar nothing is played on the first part of the first beat, and the first 'strum' is a shortened one, indicated by the staccato dot over the quaver. Having tails means that particular rhythm is the exact one the writer wants.

One site (Rebus) suggests that the slashes are to follow what's written in bar 1. As in a crotchet (proper), followed by 3 slashes, then 4 slashes per bar, would indicate 4 strums per bar (in 4/4 time) until changed by some other proper dot. Interesting? Never encountered that - yet.

  • 1
    I disagree with "They're basically the rhythm pattern" ... they might be the meter but not the rhythm pattern. If the slashes have stems, then they could show a rhythm pattern, but without stems they are just the basic pulse of the meter. Jul 25, 2022 at 12:40
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - I've played them as the basic rhythm from real and fake sheets for many decades. By putting a time sig. at the beginning, that gives the player the meter, surely.
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2022 at 12:54
  • Isn't calypso played in straight (non-swung) rhythm? And latin indicates straight. Jul 25, 2022 at 13:22
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    @Tim I think the meaning is just to have a marker for each beat in the bar, not to indicate any specific comping rhythm pattern. You can of course choose to comp with that as a pattern. All sources I've been able to find tell the same thing, like usermanuals.finalemusic.com/Finale2012Mac/Content/Finale/… If you want to indicate a specific rhythm for comping, use stems. But without stems it's not a comping pattern. Jul 25, 2022 at 13:26
  • @user1079505 - what I'm saying is that from the slashes, there's no real indication as to what to play, other than 4 in the bar, basically. If the rhythm needed 'spelling out', that would often be done with the slashes - first couple of bars at least, giving the rhythm player a better clue.
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:26

It's called slash notation. Quote from the Dorico notation application's manual

Rhythm slashes are diagonal lines positioned on staves that are used to indicate that performers should play something, but without specifying the exact rhythms and pitches.

It means, "play something here". Each slash represents a time period of one quarter-note beat in your example picture.

In Finale the slashes are apparently also called "hash marks" https://usermanuals.finalemusic.com/Finale2014Win/Content/Finale/Slashes.htm

That page says that The number of hash marks is determined by the bottom number of the time signature. So if it was 6/8, you'd have 8 slashes?? I think it should be the top number of the time signature.

I tried to find what Elaine Gould's Behind Bars says about it, but couldn't find "slash" anything in the index.

  • I also checked in Gould's tome, but sadly found nothing. Perhaps in the next edition?
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:00
  • Seems like Dolmetsch doesn't have anything either. I have a sneaky suspicion this came up several years ago, though...
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:32
  • You are the only one that got this right, +1. Slashes imply no specific rhythms or pitches. They are meant for ad-lib accompaniment. Also I agree it is the top number of the time signature, OR the number of beats per bar in compound times like 12/8 indicates the number of slashes per bar, not the bottom. This is confirmed by hundreds of charts I have seen as also by the way music notation programs generate slashes automatically. Jul 25, 2022 at 17:58

These are rhythm indication for the chords above: it tells that the chords should be played two times a beat for the first seven bars for instance. Simply, four times per per bar for the first seven bars.

It is typical of chord chart notation.


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