Playing one chord over another

I'm self taught and the theory that I know I learned myself or with the help of some online tools. Most of this makes a lot of sense. I understand the theory when it comes to constructing and naming of chords, but the one thing I have a real issue with is one chord being played over another.

How are these chords named, where are they derived from and how do I know a specific chord belongs to this naming convention without seeing the chord name. For example, I saw a tutorial by Marty Swartz on Imagine by John Lennon where he plays a Amin7 chord (E x, A 0, D 2, G 0, B 1, e 0), but then says it can also be a F/E. Also, in the song Horse with no name by America, there is something like a D6/F#.

Any insight into this chords would be appreciated, specially how there chords are constructed in theory

The chords that we know and love are produced by basically using 1,3 and 5 of a major or minor scale. Thus, Cmaj. is made up from C,E and G. This odd number pattern continues with 7, 9, 11 and 13, the chords named after the appropriate number. So, the Am7 in your example will be A,C,E and G.Since A is the 1, and the root note, and there's a 7 and a minor 3, it gets called Am7. Interestingly, though, by using the same notes, but starting at C, going C,E,G and A, it gets called C6. I really can't understand where 'F/E' comes from. There's no F in it, although playing the bottom string on Am7 will actually make it Am7/E. 'F/E' could be F maj7, as it features an E, but without an F, how can it be an F chord of any sort?

Generally, there are not two different chords playing simultaneously. There could be, for example, C,E.G and B,D,F all together, making Cmaj11, and might(?) be explained as it's C maj. and Bo played at the same time. I can't think of a song, though that would have, say, Cmaj7 and Dm superimposed - that means every note in the key sounding at the same time!

I think you think the slash means to play both the chords on either side of the slash! It doesn't! It means the first chord is the main one to play, and to use the NOTE written AFTER the slash as the lowest note played. That after slash note may, or may not be actually part of the original chord. If it IS, then the chord gets called an inversion, if NOT, then it's just a different note, often used to get from the previous to the next chord. Example - C, C/B, Am7 - which stays with the same basic notes for the chords, but sets up a descending bass line, going from C, through B down to A.

The D6/F# is an example of the former, a first inversion of a D6 chord - being D,F#,A and B, using the F# as the lowest played note.

• That really helps a lot. I know the basics how chords are contructed and named, but the slash trew me off there. I think to wrap up, just as example and to make sure I'm on the right track, if I play an open A chord which includes the open low E, which is just an inverted A chord, I would then write it as A/E – Pieter Goosen Jun 27 '16 at 8:09
• slightly off topic but a band I used to play in would sometimes split chords between the two guitarists. e.g. one guitar would play a C major and the other would play a G minor higher on the neck which combined to make a C 9 chord. – Noel Walters Jun 28 '16 at 17:39
• @NoelWalters - a lovely idea, and in the sort of vein I've always advocated - I've worked in too many bands where there are two guitarists, both playing the exact same chord in the same place on both guitars. I got to saying 'why doesn't one of you go home?'! It's a great idea, wish more would do it! – Tim Jun 28 '16 at 17:49
• Many of our songs have my rhythm guitarist playing just the root and 5th power chord, with me playing either the full chord, or more often just the extensions higher up the neck. With our tones set appropriately this gives a wide spread across the frequency range, and a full sound. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 1 '16 at 8:16
• @DrMayhem - nice idea. I've always tried to play at least a different inversion from the other guitarist, and often a complementary rhythm pattern. Can't see the point in having two guitars otherwise. Left one band mainly because it had an extra guitarist who duplicated what another did in most songs. And they paid him! I was on bass then - no copying me... – Tim Jul 1 '16 at 8:24

There are chords that are played one over another, called bichords or polychords in general, such as the Petruschka chord (C over F#). They rarely occur in popular music.

The naming convention is "X over Y", e.g. "A over Cm7". The notation looks like a fraction, with a horizontal line rather than a diagonal slash between the chord names:

I don't think that's what you're after though... You were looking at slash chords, in which the bass note is written after a (diagonal) slash:

`C/E`

Another angle to this -- the slash/chord is often written on lead sheets / cheat sheets to help bassists understand what notes they should be playing over a particular passage. If you see G, D/F# and Em, for example, the guitar player would play G major, D major and E minor but the bassist would play G, F# and E. This gives a feeling of walking down to the Em, as opposed to a rising up feeling if you were to simply play the chord root notes. Same for C, G/B, Am.

Slight correction to Tim's nice explanation above: Tim wrote, "So, the Am7 in your example will be A,C,E and G.Since A is the 1, and the root note, and there's a 7 and a minor 3, it gets called Am7."

Actually, it is the root note A, a flat minor 3rd C, major 5th E, and a flat dominant 7th G, which makes it an Amin7.

F/E is commonly listed as an F chord in the open position, but with an E as the bass note. The index finger barring the 1st fret of the first and second string is an F (1) and C (5), the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the third string is an A (3), and the ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 4 string is an F (1). So this alone is an F chord with 5th and 6th strings muted. Musicians often strum the open 5th and 6th string, So the 6th string is the bass, which is an E; and the open 5th string is an A, which is again the 3rd of the F chord as outlined above.

• Sorry to be pedantic, but - A=root, C= min3, E=perfect 5, G=min7. There can't be a flat minor 3, it's already flat. A dominant 7 already contains a flat 7, so it won't be flattened again, as that would make it a diminished 7. It's rare to find a minor chord with a major 7, but it is called minor, major 7, and not what would fit here. – Tim Jul 7 '16 at 9:45
• Thank you for the clarification. Always like to get those right, but never can when stated. Just hope to play it right... ;-) – blusician Jul 8 '16 at 3:11