The­ory God­mother

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An­swers to your mu­si­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal is­sues.

Post your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to: The­ory God­mother, Gui­tar Tech­niques, 30 Mon­mouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at info@david­mead.net - ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

Slash ’n’ burn Dear The­ory God­mother

I still don’t re­ally un­der­stand the con­cept be­hind slash chords. If a chord is writ­ten out with a dif­fer­ent root, how come it doesn’t just change the na­ture of the chord com­pletely? If, as an ex­am­ple, you have a C ma­jor chord fol­lowed by a C over E, then why can’t the sec­ond chord be some kind of E chord in­stead? Surely this would be ti­dier on the page and less am­bigu­ous?

Mel The idea of chord sym­bols in a piece of mu­sic is to keep the har­monic move­ment clearly de­fined. So if there’s a vari­a­tion on the I chord in C ma­jor as you sug­gest, then a slash chord re­mains the eas­i­est way of point­ing this out. All that’s hap­pen­ing in a C/E chord (Ex1) is that we’ve in­verted the chord so that it has its 3rd in the bass in­stead of a root. Typ­i­cally this: CEG EGC

Cmaj: C/E: 135 351 The na­ture of the chord and the role it plays in the on­go­ing har­mony hasn’t changed at all; we’ve just mixed up the notes a lit­tle to of­fer a slightly dif­fer­ent flavour to the same ba­sic idea. The most im­por­tant thing is that it re­mains a I chord and it’s clear that the har­mony hasn’t shifted away from the root.

If we tried to an­a­lyse the same chord from the point of view of its re­vised bass note –E– then we’d end up with some kind of E mi­nor b6th which would send out con­fus­ing and po­ten­tially calami­tous sig­nals to any­one try­ing to play along. So, while the slash chord might not al­ways be the per­fect short­hand for what’s hap­pen­ing within a song, it’s uni­ver­sally un­der­stood and the best means we have avail­able.

Pine Fresh? Dear The­ory God­mother

My ques­tion re­lates to the fa­mous song Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Kurt Cobain. I am aware that this song is in the key of E mi­nor. Armed with this knowl­edge I de­cided to con­fi­dently at­tack the fret­board know­ing that the key of Em will only al­low me to em­ploy the fol­low­ing chords: Em, F#dim, G, Am, Bm, C and D. I was wrong. When I be­gan play­ing the sec­ond chord of the song di­rected me to­wards Am (the IV chord of Em). This sounded hor­ri­bly wrong but when I changed it to a ma­jor chord, ev­ery­thing re­solved it­self. Ba­si­cally, I would just like to ask why the A ma­jor works in this sit­u­a­tion?

Niall First of all this song was not writ­ten by Kurt Cobain, although Nir­vana’s ver­sion is cer­tainly one of the bet­ter known. The song ex­ists with at least three dif­fer­ent ti­tles, too, in­clud­ing In The Pines and Black Girl. It’s a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can folk song dat­ing from the 19th cen­tury and was a hit for blues legend Lead­belly in the 1940s, but the orig­i­nal com­poser is un­known. So the song and its chord ar­range­ment be­long to the folk tra­di­tion so it might just break a few mu­si­cal rules, sim­ply be­cause the rules wouldn’t have been an is­sue with who­ever wrote it.

Se­condly, I’ve scam­pered about the in­ter­net and found a few dif­fer­ent ver­sions and I’m pretty sure that the key is E ma­jor and not E mi­nor. The chords to the song are one con­tin­u­ous repet­i­tive se­quence com­pris­ing E,A,G and B and so, if we take the E, A and B to be the stan­dard I IV V chord ar­range­ment in E ma­jor, then it’s re­ally the G that is the odd one out.

Part of the con­fu­sion is that in the Nir­vana Un­plugged video, Kurt is play­ing the E and A chords as ‘5’ or ‘power’ chords (Ex 2) as op­posed to their fuller ver­sions. So a lot of peo­ple are not hear­ing any 3rd and as­sum­ing that it’s mi­nor be­cause of the bluesy na­ture of the melody. But, not only are we talk­ing folk, we’re also talk­ing blues, be­cause Lead­belly’s ver­sion was cer­tainly in that stylis­tic re­gion. And a great many blues tunes have very mi­nor-sound­ing melodies strung over ma­jor chords. De­press­ingly, I’ve found sev­eral You Tube videos out there, some done by seem­ingly ‘of­fi­cial’ gui­tar

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