Chords in Minor Keys
As you learned in my page on chords in major keys,
every piece of music you play is in a key. In each key
there are a number of chords which fit into the scale,
and that is what I am going to describe here.
I am not going to venture into scales, because I have a page on scales
here, but I will mention them and their importance in choosing
the chords of a song. This page provides a cursory overview of keys and theory, so I am
assuming you have some knowledge of the guitar and scales.
Chords in minor keys are extremely complex because there are three different
minor scales: natural, melodic, and harmonic. The patterns of half and whole steps
in the scales are shown below. First the natural minor scale,
which is identical to the major scale starting from the sixth note:
The harmonic minor scale is identical to the natural minor scale, except that it
contains a raised seventh which allows a "leading tone" to the tonic:
The melodic minor scale is identical to the harmonic minor scale, except that it
contains a raised sixth which eliminates that 1½ step jump:
If you've studied my page on chords in major keys, you know
how to determine the chords in a key. If you apply that same method to the three scales
above, you find three different sets of chords. These chords are shown below:
The # sign (as in #viş) indicates that the root of that chord is one half-step higher
than in the natural minor scale. The + sign (as in III+) indicates an
augmented chord, which consists of a major third and an augmented fifth (eight half steps;
one half-step larger than a perfect fifth). These chords are very rare, so
don't worry about formations.
The important things to notice are these. First, the natural minor scale
is not easy to work with when writing a song; that's why the other two were invented.
Second, when you are soloing, you have to know which minor scale/key the song is in.
Third, remember that in a given minor key, you can switch between each
of these three scales and still be in the same key. Therefore,
it is extremely easy for an artist to switch between two of these
minor scales in a song, or even in the middle of a line. The Eagles' Hotel California
verse contains the following chords in B minor: Bm-F#-A-E-G-D-Em-F#, which translates as
i-V-VII-IV-VI-III-iv-V. This is a great example of a switch from harmonic
to natural minor keys and back in the middle of a song. So pay attention to that
and don't expect artists to adhere to any single scale/key.
I hope this chord theory has been useful even if it is extremely complex. It is
not terribly important to understand, though if you find yourself with a song in a minor
key (like Hotel California) it will help you explain all those major chords.
Good luck with those minor keys!
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İ 1998 Daniel E. Smith.