Building Minor Scale Chords | Beginner Guitar 101
Chord construction: how to build chords from the minor scale. Quick Read for beginner and experienced guitar players
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Understanding the music theory behind how chords in a minor key are put together will help you learn songs quicker, and write your own chord progressions.
Songs written in minor keys are created by taking the seven note natural minor scale and building a new chord off each note. We follow the same principle used to build chords from the major scale where we layer notes in intervals of thirds on top of each other.
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Relative Major and Minor Keys
For every major scale, there is a relative minor scale. This simply means that they share the same set of notes. The only difference between the two is the starting note which acts as the root and tonal centre of the scale.
For example, the G major scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#) and E minor (E, F#, G, A, B, C, D) contain the same notes so are relative scales. The same applies to C major (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) and its relative minor A (A, B, C, D, E, F, G,). As you can see the notes are identical, the root is different.
What this means is, because relative scales have the same notes, they have the same set of diatonic chords built from each note. Makes sense doesn’t it?
A song written in a minor key has a sad, dark and melancholic vibe because the chord progressions resolve to the minor tonic chord of the piece. The opposite is true for a song written in a major key. Compositions in major keys sound upbeat, happy and up for it because their chord progressions come to rest on the major tonic.
Chords In The Key Of A Minor
Here are the chords in the A natural minor scale:
A minor scale = A - B - C - D - E - F - G
For now, let’s summarize the chords in the key of A minor so you can see this key forms the same chords as its relative C major, only starting on the 6th degree chord:
Pro Tip: Once you know the types of chords found in the A minor key, the rules apply to all minor keys. Just change the starting (root) note.
Fig 1.1 - Building chords - how the minor scale notes become the building blocks for creating 7 diatonic chords. Chords in the key of A minor table.
Building Minor Scale Chords
The chords in a minor key are collectively called triads. Triads are three note chords that are created by layering 2 notes on top of a root. Each note is an interval of a third away from the next.
The intervals separating the notes in a major triad are a major third and a minor third. They contain root (1), major 3rd (3) and a perfect fifth (5).
A minor triad is made by layering a minor third on top of a major third, they contain root (1), minor 3rd (b3) and a perfect fifth (5).
Diminished triads are made from two minor thirds and contain a root (1), minor 3rd (b3) and a flat fifth (b5).
Augmented triads are the 4th triad types that the major and minor scales yield. They are made from a root (1), major 3rd (3) and a raised fifth (#5).
Major third = 4 semitones
Minor third = 3 semitones
Here's a run down of how the 7 chords in the key of A minor are constructed:
The first chord in the key is made by starting on the A root note and layering two thirds. The first third (between notes A-C) is a minor third, the second (between notes C-E) is a major third.
The chord formula for a minor triad is 1-b3-5:
Chord degree 1: A major chord (triad) = A - C - E
We follow the same third layering idea to make the second chord. You start on the second note along (B) which acts as the chord root, then add a minor third (D) and and another minor third (F). This gives you the B diminished chord.
The chord formula for a diminished triad is 1-b3-b5:
Chord degree 2: B diminished chord (triad) = B - D - F
Chord degree 3: C major chord (triad) = C - E - E
Chord degree 4: D minor chord (triad) = D - F - A
Chord degree 5: E minor chord (triad) = E - G - B
Chord degree 6: F major chord (triad) = F - A - C
Chord degree 7: G major chord (triad) = G - B - D