• How to use 6-4 chords in real chord progressions

    in Chords & Progressions

    Yesterday, we had a blast learning about 6-4 chords.

    Basically, they are major chords with their fifths as the lowest note.

    For example, if you’re about to play a C major chord — in this case, just simply play G as the lowest note with C major on top and you’ve got yourself a 6-4 chord. Simple right?

    Now, here’s the big deal.

    Normally when I refer to second inversion chords, I’m usually just referring to the right hand alone… like when I’m talking about harmonizing a melody or something. So when I say, “play C major in second inversion on the right hand,” the truth is that the overall chord is still C major in root position if I’m playing C major in the bass.

    I usually don’t get that technical though because it’s a given that C is the bass most of the time so when I usually mention inversions, I’m only talking about the right hand.

    But with 6-4 chords, it’s not just playing a second inversion chord with the right hand in the way I just described. It’s actually playing the 5th as the lowest note of the overall chord. So if C major is your chord, G will be your bass and nothing will be lower than it.

    In fact, we could end this conversation about 6-4 chords right now. You could easily just say Cmaj/G and it’d be the same thing. That’s essentially a “Cmaj 6-4.”

    (But if you’re like me, you’d like to know exactly what you’re playing and what other people call it, right?)

    Well, today, I want to go a step further.

    Let’s actually study real-life applications of the 6-4 chord.

    1) The Neighboring 6-4 (a.k.a. – Pedal 6-4)
    2) The Passing 6-4
    3) The Cadential 6-4

    Neighboring 6-4

    This basically occurs when the bass stays the same but the upper voices of the chord move to a 6-4 chord and back down to the original chord. Usually in a stepwise motion (that is, the notes that move only go “next door” and come right back).

    Like in this C major chord progression:

    C major
    E + G + C on right / C on left

    F major / C (or Fmaj 6-4)
    F + A + C on right / C on left

    C major
    E + G + C on right / C on left

    Notice that the first and last chords are the same. The chord in the middle serves as a neighboring “6-4” chord. The bass never changes (always remains on “C”).

    You hear this a lot in the beginning of ballads. It sounds pretty.

    Passing 6-4

    This usually occurs when the bass is walking up.

    C major
    E + G + C on right / C on left

    G major / D (or Gmaj 6-4)
    D + G + B / D on left

    C major
    E + G + C on right / E on left

    Rather than coming back to the same exact chord (like in the “neighboring” example), this 6-4 chord led to a different inversion of the C major chord (one that puts E on the bottom… we’ll talk about that chord later).

    Cadential 6-4

    This is probably the most common use of the 6-4 chord. You’ll definitely hear this at the end of many songs. In fact, when you’ve heard me talk about “2-5-1” chord progressions, often times, it’s not just 3 chords (that is, the “2-chord” going to the “5” and then immediately coming home to the “1-chord”).

    Sometimes, it’s really 2-5-5-1 (but since the progression stays on the same “5th” degree for two chords, most people will just call it a “2-5-1” as it serves the same exact purpose). In other words, the chord progression may simply hang out at the “5” for a couple chords and then finally return home.

    The 2-chord has done its job to get us to the 5 but at times, we’re not quite ready to use the regular 5-chord like we want… so we put a 6-4 chord in there first, which resolves us to the more common 5-chord, which then takes us home to our 1-chord! Thus, what I called “2-5-5-1” above!

    Let’s get a little more specific…

    Yesterday, we talked about the instability and slight dissonance of chords in their second inversion (“6-4s”). They usually require resolution as they hang loose over the bass. They certainly don’t give you a feeling of “home bass.” Even a non-musician senses that the “6-4” chord needs to go somewhere.

    And usually that “somewhere” is simply moving the upper notes down in stepwise motion to a more stable major chord in root position (the bass stays the same).

    Consider this progression…

    C major / G (or Cmaj 6-4)
    G + C + E on right / G on left

    G major
    G + B + D on right / G on left

    C major
    E + G + C on right / C on left

    You better watch out! With this information, you’ll soon be composing your own music! After all, this is how it’s done!

    The last two days may be a lot to swallow if you’re not used to thinking of second inversion chords this way. But just go back over it and you’ll be good to go!

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Eresmas

    This is much easier to understand. I am enlightened.


    2 jonathan

    I really thank the Lord that you’re the instrument for me to make more understand about music and id learned from your lesson and tips. Id already played those chords but i don’t know what are the names of that chords like polychords, 251, 64 chords & etc. Hoping for more lessons.
    Thanks, may Gob bless you and your ministry.



    3 James


    I do thank God for your work and the others working with you. There is so much material, that I as a beginner cannot consume it all, but with God’s help some day I will teach other the technics I have received from you. Thank You and God Blessing be upon you. James Lathon


    4 Tom

    Although this is a good description, I have noticed one flaw: the passing 6/4. You have pointed out that the bass line changes so that the overall chord inversion changes (Ia, Vc, Ib), yet the right hand chord stays the same for both tonic chords. For the correct use, the melody in the right hand must go in the opposite direction to avoid parallel octaves (this is counterpoint). For example:

    C major
    E + G + C on right / C on left

    G major / D (or Gmaj 6-4)
    D + G + B / D on left

    C major
    C + E + G on right / E on left

    Notice how on the last chord, the right hand now plays a C + E + G instead of an E + G + C – this avoids the parallel octaves. It would be easier to show you this if I had a score to right on, but alas, I cannot.

    Hopefully this little note will help explain the passing 6/4 slightly better than what you have done.


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