The idea of a compound chord is easy to grasp – they are simply two chords played together, and will most often be shown in tab or standard notation as a bunch of notes, one on top of the other.
However, compound chords are used to create very complex harmonies. Here we look at how to create compound chords inversion, and what to do with them once you have them.
An inversion of a chord, written with the chord name first, followed by the first note to be played. For example, C/E would indicate the first inversion of a C major chord.
A chord with a bass note that doesn’t belong with the chord. For example, a C/Ab compound chord would be played with a C, G and E as well as an Ab. Two chords played together, for example a D chord played over a C chord in the bass would be noted as D/C.
You’ll notice that in all cases, the first letter usually denotes a triad, while the second letter is a bass note. Sometimes more notes from the bass chord are played in a compound chord.
Compound chords can sound intimidating, but are actually easy to work out on your own. Simply play an open chord, and add an extra note in the bass. You probably already do this with your C major chord, holding down the top string on the third fret to create a C/G. This is shown in the diagram below.
Third fret, top string while holding a Dm chord to create a Dm/G
Strumming an E major chord from the fifth string instead of the top string, effectively changing the bass note to create an E/C#
Third fret, fifth string while holding an open F chord to create an F/D
Adding your thumb to a D Major chord on the 6th string to create a F#/D. This is shown in the picture below.
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Compound chords are used for creating complex harmonies. If your harmony is becoming too complex using traditional extensions, you can use compound chords to retain the color, while simplifying the playing.
Compound chords in jazz are a common occurrence. Jazz musicians try to create music with varying degrees of consonance and dissonance, often using compound chords without any underlying intervallic structure. This music has a strange and wonderful sort of flow.
Eclipse, Pink Floyd
Two Suns in the Sunset, Pink Floyd
Try using the C/G and Dm/F compound chords in these songs:
Let It Be, The Beatles
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan
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