F#/D# A/D A/B oh yeah!!!
November 23, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

If somebody says "I love those awesome chords they use over each other in the chorus. the F#/D# into the A/D and then A/B just sounds too epic!" ...how can I understand what they mean without being a music major?

I'm sort of frustrated with my inability to pick chord progressions that go with a simple melody. But I read this Youtube comment and felt extremely daft.

How does this A/D A/B terminology translate into my fingers finding a solid chord on the keyboard? What's the recipe?
posted by circular to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
BTW I keep an alto recorder around to play a little from time to time. I'm not useless with music and can play by ear, but chords really stump me.
posted by circular at 4:27 PM on November 23, 2011

That slash notation is used to show that a chord has an unusual note in the bass.

F#/D# means "An F# major chord with a D# in the bass." On a keyboard instrument, that would mean D# in the left hand, and F#-A#-C# in the right hand.

Similarly, A/D means "An A major chord with a D in the bass," and A/B means "An A major chord with a B in the bass."

So overall you're looking at something like this:
Right hand: C#  E  E
            A#  C# C#
            F#  A  A

Left hand:  D#  D  B

posted by nebulawindphone at 4:35 PM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Major chords (A,B,C,D,E,F,G) are played in triads - the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the scale that's being played. So to make a C, you play the C (root), G (3rd), D (5th). Usually you add another C, G and D in other octaves to fill out the chord, unless you're going for a simple, non-thick sound. Anything not a major chord (minor, suspended, slash notes, 11th chords, 7th chords, root 5th chords) are all variations on this, adding a certain sound and feel. That seems like all you need to know to enjoy music. Sometimes people put unusual chords or unusual chords progressions together, and that's what is impressing you friends, it sounds like. Any other questions?
posted by jitterbug perfume at 5:10 PM on November 23, 2011

To understand how chords work it helps a lot to know your intervals.

Intervals are just the distance between two notes, counted by semitones.

The distance between any keyboard key (whether white or black) and the one immediately closest to it in either direction (whether white or black) is a semitone.

Can you find a C on a keyboard? (If not, it's the white note immediately to the left of the group of two black notes, as marked in the top image on the previous link.) The two notes a semitone away from the C are the B immediately to the left and the C# immediately to its right.

The next C to the right of that one is a total of twelve semitones away. The interval of twelve semitones is called an octave.

Each of the other intervals also has a name, as follows:

1 semitone - minor 2nd
2 semitones - major 2nd
3 semitones - minor 3rd
4 semitones - major 3rd
5 semitones - perfect 4th
6 semitones - tritone
7 semitones - perfect 5th
8 semitones - minor 6th
9 semitones - major 6th
10 semitones - minor 7th
11 semitones - major 7th
12 semitones - octave

Some of these intervals have other names, but don't worry about them for now. To make major and minor chords, you only need to be interested in three intervals - the major 3rd, the minor 3rd, and the perfect 5th.

Take any note and find the note a major 3rd above. Then find the note a perfect 5th above. For example, if you start on C, you'll find E a major 3rd above the C, and you'll find G a perfect 5th above the C. C, E, and G together makes a chord of C major.

The recipe for all major chords is the same - start with the note you want the chord to be 'in', then find the major third and the perfect 5th above it.

Start again with F. A major third above F is A. A perfect 5th from F is C. F, A, and C is F major.

Now take the C major chord you just found, and replace the major 3rd with a minor 3rd. Now you have C, Eb and G. This is the recipe for minor chords - your starting note, the minor 3rd and the perfect 5th.

The recipe for all minor chords is the same - a minor third and a perfect fifth.

Start again with an E. The minor third above that is G. The perfect 5th above the E is B. E, G, B, hey presto, E minor.

Note that both major and minor chords consist of the starting note, or 'root' note, plus the perfect 5th, plus either the major third or minor third. It isn't easy to understand some of the names of intervals - you have to take them as given until you understand them - but in the case of major and minor thirds, it is very easy - they make the difference between major and minor chords.

Some music scholars talk about 'stacked intervals', or 'triads'. I've never understood why this is fun or useful, but to understand it is easy: look at your major chord in C (C, E, G) and work out the interval between the E and the G. It's a minor third. Now look at your minor chord (C, Eb and G) and work out the interval between the Eb and the G. It's a major third. If you like, a major chord can be understood as a minor third stacked on top of a major third, while a minor chord can be understood as a major third stacked on top of a minor third.

Now that you've got your basic recipes for major and minor chords, you need to know that playing those notes in any order in any octave will still sound more or less like the same chord. This is how guitar chords work - to play a C chord, for example, you fret a bunch of strings so that all that comes out are Cs, Es and Gs. Playing an E minor chord on a guitar means you fret strings differently so that you only get Es, Gs and Bs.

More complicated chords can be constructed by adding further notes to major or minor chords (especially sixths and sevenths), interesting stuff happens when you stack minor thirds on top of each other or major thirds on top of each other, some people, especially in jazz, like to count intervals beyond an octave (hence ninths, thirteenths etc); there's also a bunch of stuff about what order you play the notes of the chord in, but these are all more advanced topics. The above is the basic recipe you wanted.

As for the slash notation, that was dealt with in the previous comment - X / Y means that you take an X chord and arbitrarily play a Y note as the lowest note. Y may or may not be in the X chord, and experimenting with this gives you different sounds.

In the end, theory is never anything more than a shorthand for communicating ways of making different kinds of sound and expanding your musical vocabulary for when you are properly playing. It's worth getting your head around all this, as if you can already play by ear, you're way ahead of all those musicians who can't. The more theory you know to underpin your ear, the better you'll get.
posted by motty at 5:12 PM on November 23, 2011 [15 favorites]

Major chords (A,B,C,D,E,F,G) are played in triads - the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the scale that's being played. So to make a C, you play the C (root), G (3rd), D (5th). Usually you add another C, G and D in other octaves to fill out the chord, unless you're going for a simple, non-thick sound.

No, C major is C (root), E (3rd), G (5th).
posted by John Cohen at 6:15 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a guitar player, this is why it's great for anybody to learn some piano which gives a much more "visual" approach to how chords are made.

As an anecdote, I love me some Elvis Costello but a lot of his songs are tough to play simply on guitar, because he uses a lot of chords with alternate bass notes (F#/D#, e.g.). It's clear that he does a lot of composing on piano or with his keyboard buddy Steve Nieve doing the chords. It's a lot easier to move the low note around on a piano than it is on a conventionally tuned guitar, especially if you're up the neck using barre chords.
posted by bardic at 8:34 PM on November 23, 2011

How does this A/D A/B terminology translate into my fingers finding a solid chord on the keyboard? What's the recipe?

Ignore everything after the /. When you see F/C, play F major. You can still hint at the tune. You're not asking for a theory lesson, you're asking for "How can I play this damn tune?," right?

Later on, when you're better at playing this tune, whatever's after the / goes in your left hand. Usually, when you see that in pop music, it's either pedal point (like playing a bunch of chords while the bass hand and bass player are sitting on D) or it's to lead the bass line down from one note to the next like:

Cm7 Cm7/B Cm7/Bb Am7b5 AbM7 Fm7 Dm7b5 G7b9
(bass line: C, B, Bb, A, Ab, F, D, G)

For your purposes, just play the chord noted before the / and you'll do fine.

Also, please try to ignore YouTube comments.
posted by phoebus at 8:36 PM on November 23, 2011

Listening to the actual link, I don't hear what your friends are describing so maybe, just because you can't follow what they're talking about, it doesn't mean they're right and you're wrong
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:47 AM on November 24, 2011

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