Ok I am brand new to playing the piano and I apologize if this question seems idiotic. I am trying to learn how to play American Pie here. I realized that I was playing both a D and a D/F# the same way, I was hitting the D, F#, and A keys together. I know this is right for at least 1 of them, but I don't know if it's right for both.

Without getting into any extraneous details can you tell me the difference? All I want to know is which keys I need to press down, no more no less.

Sorry if this is a dupe.

  • The letter before the slash / assignes the chord=D, the letter after the slash tells us the bass tone. You can keep this tone in the r.h. or let it drop ... Jan 24 '20 at 7:05

A commonly used way to play those chords is:

  • D : play the three-note chord D, F#, A with your right hand, and D with your left hand an octave or two lower.
  • D/F# : play the same three-note chord D, F#, A with your right hand, but F# with your left hand.

When your left hand plays low bass notes, the ”inversions” marked using slash chords are right, no matter how you play the chord tones with your right hand. This is a bit as if your right hand was a guitarist and your left hand a bassist.


The bass is the critical part.

D means play a D major chord ...and by default the bass should be D the chord's root.

D/F# is a so-called slash chord (or an inverted chord is standard music theory) which means play a D major chord ...but play F# - the chord's third - in the bass.

NOTE: When the third of a major chord is in the bass, there is a strong tendency for it to move up a half step to the root of the next chord, like chords D/F# to G where the bass moves F# to G. That movement isn't a rule, but it happens a lot.

  • That's somewhat draconian! I interpret it as when there's a slash chord, the bass note is after the slash, when there's simply a letter for the chord, it's down to the discretion of the player. At least, that's what I've always done. On piano and on guitar - I know a lot of gtr sites prefer what you suggest, but I don't understand their reasoning. Chords don't have to be root position.
    – Tim
    Jan 24 '20 at 8:49
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    When an inversion is intended, it's almost always notated — so if there's no slash, the writer almost certainly intended a root-position chord. You're free to play what you want, of course, and changing a bass note can be one way to make a tune your own. But that would be a change to the music, not just an interpretation.
    – gidds
    Jan 24 '20 at 9:26
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    I get the sense that this answer is more in-depth than the other, but for that reason the other was easier for me to understand so I accepted that one. Still upvoting this one too and thankful for the help! Jan 24 '20 at 14:55
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    @Tim, draconian? it's just the standard. That doesn't preclude re-interpreting, making variations. Jan 24 '20 at 16:24
  • It's just that I've never, ever seen it as a written 'rule', Don't know how long slashed chords have been around, but they make sense as far as playing is concerned, and possibly people assume that no slash means root, but I translate it as 'please yourself'. See what Wiki says.
    – Tim
    Jan 24 '20 at 16:29

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