Funny, I almost never see chords written in that way. Those are just inversions, with the bass note being part of the chord. Usually when I see that, the bass note is not part of the chord, as in G/A or C/F.
Helpful hint: When putting the 3rd in the bass, such as C/E or D/F#, never double it anywhere else in the voicing. Doubling the 3rd sounds, without exception, totally lame.
Most of the music that I play from at church shows guitar chords this way. Some of it is pointless, like the C/G. I almost always fret it that way, and pick or don’t pick the low G depending on whether I think it fits or not. Some of it matters, most typically for descending transitions from the root to 6 chord, like G > D/F# > Em.
I really can’t agree with you on the doubling thirds thing; two of the most basic and common open chords on the guitar include multiple thirds, C(C E G C E) and G (G B D G B G). Those two sound fine to me.
Sure, but getting away from open chords, the doubled 3rd tends to go away. It’s generally inadvisable when it’s not in the bass. When it is in the bass, it’s E-V-I-L.
Whether playing or writing rock, jazz, or classical, I’ve always been taught to avoid it. When I was in music school, it was considered a cardinal sin, and you could fail a project for doing it. (OK, not really, but you’d get marked down a grade.)
Try this: Play an F major triad on the D, G, and B strings. Now add in the open A. Now play it but mute the fingered A. Doesn’t that sound much better?
I’m a novice, so I hope you’ll bear with me, but I have further questions:
For C/E, it seems to me obvious what to do. You pluck the low open E string and then play the C chord. Right? But some of the others, it’s not necessarily so clear. Like G/D. Which D are we talking about? Do I have to re-finger mid-chord?
Happy to help. It’s rare that I get to actually put my degree to work.
For one thing, you don’t play the bass note and then the chord. Well, you could. But normally you’d strum it all at once.
For G/D, either ignore the lowest two strings so that the open D is the lowest, or retune your E string down a step. It all depends on the context, I guess. Does the bass line alone form a melody? If the notation includes piano notation, look at the left hand stuff to see if you can tease out the composer’s intentions. For D/F#, I can’t see that you’d have much choice other than reaching your thumb around to get that low note.
An inversion is basically any note other than the root in the bass. The 3rd in the bass is 1st inversion, the 5th in the bass is 2nd inversion. TMI, but triads can also be closed or open. If they are closed, then the notes are as close together as possible. If they are open, there is a gap and something has gone up an octave.
For instance, a C major triad would be (lowest to highest) C-E-G.
Doubling is when any note in the chord appears on more than one octave. 1st inversion, closed, with doubling, might be E-G-C-E-G. (A pretty much impossible chord for guitar!) A standard open C in first position is (ignoring the low string) C-E-G-C-E. The C and the E are doubled.
The note following the slash is the lowest note. Assuming your guitar is in standard tuning, you would play the open D string as your lowest note, not play the bottom two strings at all, and play the remainder of the chord on the top three strings. (Since open D isn’t a very low note, G/D makes more sense if you’re in a drop-D tuning and can use the sixth string for the bass D note.)
An inversion is defined by the lowest note in the voicing. If the root note is on the bottom (as in a standard 6-string G chord), that’s called root position. If the third is on the bottom (as in a 6-string open position C major), that’s called first inversion. (It’s the same inversion no matter what order the rest of the notes are in.) If the fifth is on the bottom, as in a 5-string open position D chord), that’s second inversion. Third inversion is when the seventh is on the bottom–obviously doesn’t apply to simple triads–and so on.
Doubling in this context simply means having the same note in two (or more) different octaves within the same chord.
ETA: Dammit, tdn, you weren’t there when I previewed!
Re: doubling the 3rd when it’s the bass note (as we have learned, this is first inversion). When playing D/F# (F# being the 3rd of the D chord–D, F#, A) I always play (bottom up)
F# (on the low E string)
A (on the G string)
D (on the B string)
<muted high E string>
That’s only 3 fretted notes and does not require reaching around with the thumb.
When playing a G/B, I always fret the 5th (D) on the B string, so again the B in the bass (on the A string, low E string is muted) is the only 3rd. Apparently I’ve been channeling tdn all these years without knowing it.
I remember learning about not doubling the 3rd back in high school music theory class – this was studying music written in the baroque/classical style. Break the rule and the teacher would go all Judge Judy on you.
Then again at Berklee, whether it was jazz guitar voicings, piano voicings, or arranging. A strict no-no. Not only did the teachers enforce it, but your fellow students would put you through a sort of hazing for it.
Then later, learning orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov was adamant about it.
I think about the only style where it sounds good is in acoustic folk where you want those big six-string full sonorous chords.
Even so I find that eliminating the doubling goes beyond following some arbitrary rule. A doubled 3rd just sounds top-heavy and unbalanced to me. Even a doubled tonic, unless it’s at either end of closed, root inversion 4-note chord, sounds a little wonky. But doubling the 5th is always OK.
Depending on the style and the effect you’re after, of course. Big fat bar chords always sound great.
See, that’s funny because my theory learning was that if you’re writing in four voices in baroque style and you’re using triads, the order in which it’s preferable to double are: root, 3rd, 5th. And, at least to my ear, that makes all sorts of sense.
For jazz or rock voicings it makes all sorts of sense to avoid doubling the 3rd, but classically it’s pretty common.
ETA: I just noticed, I feel like the last bunch of music-related threads I’ve participated in I’ve come in and been quite the contrarian. I hope I’m not coming across as obnoxious.
When you say 3rd, are you referring to the mediant of the key, or the third interval of ANY chord? Because wouldn’t the doubling be dependent on the key?
For example, if we’re in the key of C major, and you have an E minor chord (E G B), it would be perfectly acceptable (and preferred) that you double the 3rd of the chord, since G is the dominant of the key. Doubling the E would be the alternative, and doubling the leading tone (B) should be avoided at all costs.
Just in case there’s any confusion, when people upthread have said not to double the third, they’re meaning in the first inversion. For example, in a C major chord, if the root is on the bottom, double whatever you like. If the fifth is on the bottom, double whatever you like. However, if the third is on the bottom, double the root or the fifth; avoid doubling the third.
Why? Because the first inversion (third on the bottom) is weak in terms of its own ‘quality’. We tend to hear the bottom note as more important in establishing the note upon which the chord is based - Roots and fifth reinforce the tonality of the chord. The third is more ambiguous in defining the root of the chord. A C Major chord with E in the bass and another E in the chord sounds too much like e minor with a wrong note.
First inversion chords are a great way to move up or down in step-wise progressions, but they weaken the progression if they can’t establish themselves. In other words, you want your harmonies to state their names and functions clearly - first inversion chords with the thirds doubled kinda mumble and stammer.
In jazz harmony, it gets even worse because the x6 chord is an acceptable harmony. Whether the combination of notes C E G A gets perceived as C6 or am7 depends entirely on what’s in the bass. If you’ve got A and E as the lowest two notes, it’s going to sound like am7. If you’ve got C and G as the lowest two notes, it’ll sound like C6. If you’re trying to play a plain vanilla d minor and you put F in the bass and double it elsewhere in the chord, it’s going to sound like an F6 with the C omitted.
Well, actually, I’m talking about any inversion. In first inversion, the rule just becomes extra special with love and kisses and a big red cherry on top.
In acoustic guitar music, that rule needs to be taken with a little grain of salt. Some doublings of the mediant sound, if not good, at least not horribly egregious. In scoring for an orchestra, the Pure Evil of doubling the 3rd becomes instantly apparent. It becomes instant mud, no matter what register it’s in, from low E on the basses to high C on the piccolo.
That applies mostly to full tutti scoring. If you’ve got big full gorgeous chords covering the entire available range, the 3rd can only sound in one octave. (But can be doubled by multiple instruments in that octave.) If the orchestra is split into various roles (rhythm, harmony, melody) or textures, the rule can be relaxed a little.
As an example of how powerful the 3rd of a major or minor triad is, I like to quickly hit, loudly, all the roots and fifths of a triad on the piano, like all the C’s and all the G’s. Then, very softly, play the 3rd (E natural or E flat) somewhere on the keyboard and notice how that single pitch can define the chord’s major or minor-ness. Two or more 3rds are not needed, and in blues and some rock, the 3rd is often “implied” or purposely ambiguous.
Hmm. I was taught, at least when you’re dealing with four part chorale-type harmony, that the order of preference is: root, fifth, third, and you’d better have a damn good reason for doubling the third*. And, of course, in a V chord, you absolutely must not ever double the third.
*(Different rule, but I remember once in theory… III or IV, we were harmonizing Bach chorales, and my theory professor was playing through my harmonization and mentioned casually “Nice parallel fifth.” I was petrified, but he was serious; I had managed (accidentally) to stumble into one of the circumstances where it’s actually permitted.)