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Minor Chords: How to Build and Use Sad Chords

Minor Chords: How to Build and Use Sad Chords

Minor chords are one of the most important chord types in music.

They’re part of the basic music theory vocabulary you’ll need to write songs or produce tracks.

But what are minor chords really? How are they built and where are they used?

In this article I’ll go over everything you need to know about minor chords.

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What are minor chords?

Minor chords are the set of chords that contain a characteristic minor third interval away from the root. They’re typically associated with sad or melancholic feelings.

The simplest form of a minor chord is the minor triad which consists of the root, minor third and perfect fifth intervals.

Here’s the basic minor triad in A minor:

If you need a refresher on how intervals work in music, head over to our guide to brush up. If you just need the basics, intervals are the distance between musical notes in scale degrees.

The simplest form of a minor chord is the minor triad which consists of the root, minor third and perfect fifth intervals.

For the minor triad you need to know that a minor third is three semitones away from the root and a perfect fifth is seven semitones away from the root.

If you’re familiar with the minor scale you can also simply use the formula to count scale steps by the number in the interval itself.

Preview of youtube video


Minor 7th chords and extended minor chords can be created using the basic formula for a minor triad. These include the minor 9 and minor 11 chords frequently used in jazz chord progressions.

Many of the diatonic chords in the fundamental musical scales are minor, making them a fixture of almost any musical composition.

Minor chord inversions

Like any other chord in music, minor chords can be played with their notes arranged in different orders.

These are called inversions. They’re used to give chords a slightly different flavor or purpose in an arrangement.

Minor triads can be arranged into two inversions other than root position. Minor seventh chords have three unique inversions.

Root position is the simplest minor triad chord voicing. It’s written with the root note in the lowest voice and rest stacked on top like a snowman.

First inversion has the third of the triad in the lowest voice and the root written an octave above:

Third inversion has the fifth in the lowest voice. It’s written like this:

How to use minor chords in your music

Minor chords are used all over music.

In major keys, minor chords often function in a predominant role. That means they occur between the tonic chord and the dominant chord in a harmonic progression.

This happens often in jazz music where the ii-V-I pattern in major is the foundation of most chord changes.

Creative songwriters love to borrow chords from scales outside of the main key.

In fact if you lay out the diatonic chords of C major, you’ll find that ii, ii and vi are all minor and can all be used as predominant chords before V.

https://blog.landr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Chord-Progressions-Major-Chord-Progression-Chart.jpg

In minor keys, minor chords can act in both tonic and predominant functions. These are the especially brooding and gloomy minor progressions often found in sad music.

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But that’s not all you can do with minor chords.

Creative songwriters love to borrow chords from scales outside of the main key.

This is especially common with minor chords since they can subvert expectations without feeling too far outside the norm.

For example, it’s common to borrow the minor iv chord from the minor scale to spice up the sound of a diatonic major progression.

One of the most well known examples is Radiohead’s “Creep” which features the minor iv at the end of the verse progression before circling back to the tonic.

Preview of youtube video


These are just a few of the ways minor chords can work in your music—listing them all would be too much!

With such a fundamental chord type, minor chords are used in almost every way imaginable.

With such a fundamental chord type, minor chords are used in almost every way imaginable.

Essential chord types

Learning the basic chord types and how they work is an important step in your journey with music theory.

If you want to create chord progressions and use them to write songs or tracks, minor chords will need to be in your toolbox.

But if you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a great foundation to start using minor chords.

 

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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