Lead Sheet Notation Questions

The attached lead sheet fragment is drawn from The Real Book. “You’ve Got A Friend” caught my attention because the notation is, in my limited experience, somewhat distinct.
(Apologies if I’ve posted this in the wrong area…)

I have three questions:

  1. In measure 20, what is meant by the slash chord notation, e.g. “/D”, “/C#”.
  2. In measures 20, 21, 22, what is intended by the triad notation where the upper two note heads are smaller than that of the root note?
  3. How do I handle a 3-note spread voicing where the chord is a triad (measure 21)?


1 Like

Hi @goforasong, thanks for writing!

Here some thoughts:

  1. Slash chords are for showing which bass note you should have, for example, Cmaj7/G means that the chord is Cmaj7, but the bass note (lowest note) is G.
    Here in the bar 20, as there is no actual chord written, the chord from the previous bar (E7sus4) is still played, but the /D /C# /B notation means that even when the chord stays the same E7sus4, bass note changes.

So, the actual chords on the bar 20 are: E7sus4/D E7sus4/C# E7sus4/B

  1. The smaller notes are there to show an optional second/third voice, for example if there would be 3 singers, one would be singing the actual melody note, whereas the other 2 would be singing background vocals and using the notes written in smaller print. For us accompanists, we should firstly stick with the chord symbols, even if they are simpler that what happens in the melody.

  2. Check the answer to the 2. Although if you want, and if the music needs, you can for example play the triad below, then add the notes above it. Chordally if the notes don’t really fit, try to find a voicing that is somewhat close to the chord symbol. Again, trying things out is better than overanalysing your options, think simple, and if something sounds good, do it!

Here’s are examples of how you can voice the bar 21:

I hope this helped, let me know if you have any further questions!


1 Like

Thank you, @Tuomo, for your very complete and clear explanation.

  1. So the slash chords in bar 20 is really a typesetting problem. The E7sus4 chord is carried over from the previous bar, but reprinting “E7sus4” three times would take space. So the simpler “/D”, &c, is shorthand.

  2. Interesting. I confess I didn’t expect additional vocal or ensemble notation in a lead sheet.

  3. In this particular case, bar 21 is an A Major triad; bar 22 an Amaj7. I thought I may be able to substitute an Amaj7 for the A Major triad, but the effect may not be correct. I’ll try playing with variations on the A Major triad.

Thanks again,

1 Like

Hi Peter,

I hope you and Tuomo don’t mind me jumping in with my 2 cents…

In my opinion (big picture), the two things to keep in mind with lead sheets are that there are few “rules” and you should play what sounds good! (And don’t worry so much about the notation).

More specifically (and trivially), to me the slash notation refers more to a descending bass line than it does to a formal slash chord, so I don’t think it’s a typesetting problem. In fact, playing an E7sus4 over a C# in the bass would be a little dissonant because of the 7th in the E chord. If it were me, for the /D, /C#, /B series, I would emphasize those bass notes in the LH, and, ideally, play descending tenths (see below).

The voicings Tuomo suggested for beat 1 in measures 21 and 22 are both Amaj7 and I think they would sound great as he’s written. But you also might try using the small note heads in the melody with a different inversion:

Thanks @gregb, your notation sounds great and simple!

Also you are right, in this case the slash chords are there to just show how the bass can walk down from V (E) to I (A)

Thanks for your insight, @gregb. You’ve reminded me that it’s good to take that step back and consider the bigger picture, i.e., the rhythm, harmonic progression, patterns of the piece. I have to remember to look for identifiable chord progressions, declining base lines, &c.

However, I had to take some time to reflect on your comment “…that there are few “rules”…” In my position as a beginner jazz piano student, I have to rely on some guiding principles to work my way through a lead sheet. Learning to apply 3-note spread voicings is a first step; not sophisticated, but a place to begin. I’m not yet familiar enough with 7th chords to play “on the fly”; I need a lot of time to work it all out. (And I’m finding it difficult to transition away from prescriptive sheet music, in the sense of notation for classical music.)


1 Like