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Minor Chords -- How To Form Them & Use Them

Aug 17, 2007
Minor chords create a sound which is somber or serious; some people even think of minor chords as "sad", as opposed to major chords which sound "normal", or "happy".

Some of the great classics are written in minor keys, including Fur Elise by Beethoven, Prelude in C# Minor by Rachmaninoff, Prelude in Cm by Chopin, and many others. In popular music there is "Summertime", "A Taste of Honey", "'Round Midnight", etc. and in folk music there is "Greensleeves", "Dark Eyes", "Volga Boatman","When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and many more.

But minor chords also occur frequently in songs which are written in major keys, and they provide the contrast needed to make a song interesting. The most-used chords in any given key are the I, IV, and V chords which are major, but followed by the ii, iii, and iv chords which are minor. So most songs written in a major key include from 1 to 3 minor chords somewhere along the line.

To understand minor chords we first need to understand major chords. Major chords are created using the root, 3rd, and 5th of a major scale. A major scale (from "la scala" = the ladder) is defined as a row of notes that moves from a root (the bottom or starting note) and moves upward by 2 whole steps, a half step, 3 whole steps, and one half step until it reaches the octave note (8 notes higher). By selecting the root, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale we create a major chord (also known as a triad -- a 3-note chord).

There are only 12 different major chords:

3 of the major chords were made of allwhite keys: C F G.

3 of the major chords were made of white keys on the outside, with a black key in the middle:
D E A.

3 of the major chords were like an Oreo cookie? Black on the outside, white on the inside: Db Eb Ab.

That only leaves 3 major chords, one of which is all black, and one of which is white, black, black, and the other the reverse -- black, white, white. Gb (all black) B (white, black, black) Bb (black, white, white).

And that's it.

Here they are in that order:

Major chords composed of all white keys:

C major chord: C, E, G
F major chord: F, A, C
G major chord: G, B, D

Major chords composed of white keys on the outside with a black key in the center:

D major chord: D, F#, A
E major chord: E, G#, B
A major chord: A, C#, E

Major chords composed of black keys on the outside with a white key in the center:

Db major chord: Db, F, Ab
Eb major chord: Eb, G, Bb
Ab major chord: Ab, C, Eb

Major chords left over:

Gb major chord (all black keys): Gb, Bb, Db
Bb major chord: Bb,
D, F B major chord: B, D#, F#

All these chords shown above are in "root position"; that is, the root, or name of the
chord, is on the bottom of the chord. In a subsequent article we will take up the other
positions in which we can play chords: inversions.

So why do I need to learn the major chords?

The answer is simple: all other chords are formed by altering one or more notes of a major chord. So once you know major chords, it's easy to find minor, diminished, augmented, and extended chords.

So to find a minor chord, all we need to do is lower the 3rd of each chord 1/2 step. So to make the C major chord into a C minor chord, we just need to lower E (the 3rd of the chord) 1/2 step to Eb.

So C minor chord is C, Eb, G.

Here are the rest of the minor chords:

F minor chord: F, Ab, C
G minor chord: G, Bb, D
D minor chord: D, F, A
E minor chord: E, G, B
A minor chord: A, C, E
Db minor chord: Db, Fb, Ab (Fb is the same as E)
Eb minor chord: Eb, Gb, Bb
Ab minor chord: Ab, Cb, Eb (Cb is the same as B)
Gb minor chord: Gb, Bbb, Db (Bbb is the same as A)
B minor chord: B, D, F#
Bb minor chord: Bb, Db, F

Learn them well, as you will be playing them all of your life in countless songs.
About the Author
For a free audio-visual lesson on minor chords by Duane Shinn, please go to
" Minor Chords: How To Form Them & Use Them!"
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