How to Build Minor Scale Chords

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In the last homework assignment, you learned how to build chords from major scales and why it is important. Diatonic harmony is a main point of understanding in music theory. In this lesson we’re going to go through the process of building minor scale chords, the major scale follows a pattern of alternating major and minor scales.

Chords are the foundation of any song and understanding how to build them is important. The minor key is one of the most common keys and in this example, all the chords which are diatonic for it were identified.

What Are Minor Chords?

Minor chords are typically associated with sad or melancholic feelings. These chords include the flattened third intervals that make up their characteristic sound.

A minor chord is a triad consisting of the root, major third and perfect fifth.

Here’s the basic minor triad in A minor: 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6

If you need a refresher on how intervals work in music, head over to our guide to brush up. For just 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.

To build a 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.

By using some basic math formulas, minor 7th chords and extended minor chords can be created. These include the minor 9 and 11 chords commonly used in jazz chord sequences.

Minor diatonic chords are a fairly common musical choice as they’re found in almost any composition and not hard to adapt to other tunes.

Building Minor Scale Chords

Minor chords are called triads. Triads are chords that are created through layering notes on top of each other. Each interval is a third away from the next.

The intervals between the notes in a triad can be considered a major third, minor third and perfect fifth. These intervals contain the root (1), major third (3) and perfect fifth (5).

A minor triad is generating from layering a minor third on top of a major third, then placing a perfect fifth in the middle of it. This creates the root note (1), minor 3rd (b3) and perfect fifth (5).

Diminished triads are made from two minor thirds and contain a root (1), minor 3rd (b3) and a flat fifth, or b5.

Augmented triads are the 4th triad types that the major and minor scales yield. They are made from one root, three major 3rds and five raised 5ths.

Major third = 4 semitones Minor third = 3 semitones

Here is a run down of each of the major and minor 7 chords in the key of A minor:

The first, second and third chords in the key are all made between notes A-C (a minor) and C-E (a major).

The chord formula for a minor triad is 1-b3-5:

  • Chord degree 1: A major chord (triad) = A – C – E

We take the same idea and use it on a chord – the second chord. You start on the second note (B) and add a minor third (D) and another minor third (F). This gives you this 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

The Minor Scale Formula

The quality of the scale is determined by the notes in it and their relationship to the tonic ‘A’. It makes sense that “C” is the lowest note, because there are twelve notes to go along with it and we can complete the scale with another six.

Of the 462 possible C scales, only a few are used in music. Most music is based on either a major or minor scale, and these two scales are closely related.

To learn how scales and chords work, we need to understand what a “major scale” is, and what a “minor scale” is.

Among major scales, there are many that are similar. As you can see here, the pattern is a series of 7 notes with the exception of the first note. In order to find out which major scale this is, we would need to work through these steps: whole, whole, half.

The Minor Scale

This combination of notes is called the minor scale. The minor scale is created with a formula, just like the major scale. The formula for the minor scale is whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. This formula is a standard sequence of notes that begins on a different note.

  • The Notes in The Minor Scale

In C, we find the notes C, D, E, F and G. Now that we’ve built a C minor scale using the minor formula, we have C, D, E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭.

  • The Scale Numbers in the Minor Scale

In the past, we had a numbering scale with notes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Now when explaining it to someone else we will compare it to the same major scale; we will say that it has notes 1, 2 (flat), ♭3, 4 (sharp), 5 (flat), 6 (sharp) and 7. The new notes of the scale are simply a different flavor of the major scale.

  • Parallel Minor

When we “switch” from a major scale to a minor scale using the same root, the relationship is said to be parallel. A musical structure is two melodies in parallel when they begin at the same point and follow each other in the same direction. Both C major and C minor share some notes, and often composers will write music that blends one into the other in a process called modal interchange.

  • Relative Minor

We didn’t change our twelve notes, and we never changed the arrangement of whole steps and half steps, it stands to reason that there is some note within the C major scale that could be considered the root of its own minor scale. All we did was drag the brackets over so that the minor scale would start on C. However, if you look again at the C major scale, you’ll see that the minor formula is present beginning on the “A” or sixth degree of the C major scale.

(From B): 2, 3, 4, ½, 1/6. A minor scale exists that is composed of the notes from a C major scale! Since these two scales relate to each other so closely, this is said to be the relative minor A minor scale which can be built from notes in a major scale.

For example, the scale of A minor has A-B-C-D-E-F#G. The same notes as C major! So A is the relative minor of C major. Relative minors can be found on the sixth degree of any major scale. If you look at the scale A minor, you’ll see that the relative major can be found starting on its third degree.

We can prove that the minor scale has a ♭3, ♭6 and ♭7 by comparing the A minor scale to the A major scale.

Minor Chord Inversions

Minor chords can be played with the notes in different orders. Inversions are used to add a slight flavor or purpose in chord arrangements.

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

J, F#, A is a root position minor triad with J on the bottom and rest stacked on top like a snowman.

The third of the triad is in the lowest voice, and their root is a whole octave above.

Third has the fifth in the lowest voice.

Guitar Triads

The basis of chord construction is built off of stacking thirds to create triads, the three notes that make up a chord. Thirds refers to notes that are a third apart. They can also be thought of as every other note in a scale or the root, 3rd, and 5th. The quality of a triad is determined by the best triangle which of the three pieces has been arranged so that it is equal to or higher than the other two pieces:

  • Major Triad – a triad with a major 3rd and perfect 5th, or a major 3rd + minor 3rd interval [7 semitones]
  • Minor Triad – a triad with a flattened 3rd (minor 3rd) and perfect 5th, or a minor 3rd + major 3rd interval [7 semitones]
  • Augmented Triad – a major triad with a raised 5th, or two major 3rd intervals [8 semitones]
  • Diminished Triad – a minor triad with a flattened 5th, or two minor 3rd intervals [6 semitones]

As we go through each example below, how these qualities come about will become more clear.

G Minor Chords

We’re going to use the key of G minor to help us in building chords for minor keys. The G minor scale includes the following notes, as seen on the fretboard diagram below:

G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F

1st Degree – G

Stacking thirds from the first degree of the G minor scale we get the following triad:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
G – B♭ – D From G to B♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From B♭ to D is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
Minor Gm

From the first degree of the G minor scale, we have a minor 3rd stacked with a major 3rd. This gives us a minor triad, which means the chord on the first degree of the minor scale is a minor chord and has the following chord formula:

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: G minor

2nd Degree – A

Stacking thirds from the second degree of the G minor scale, we get the following triad:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
A – C – E♭ From A to C is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From C to E♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
Diminished Adim

From the second degree of the minor scale, we get a minor 3rd stacked with a minor 3rd, which results in a flatted 5th degree. This results in a diminished triad.

Root – ♭3 – ?5

Chord: Adim (diminished)

3rd Degree – B♭

From the third degree of the minor scale we get the following stacked thirds:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
B♭ – D – F From B♭ to D is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From D to F is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
Major B♭

It’s pretty easy to remember – the 3rd degree is a major triad with the following formula: AAA.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: B♭

4th Degree – C

Going from the fourth degree, we get the following triad:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
C – E♭ – G From C to E♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From E♭ to G is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
Minor Cm

With the fourth degree of the minor scale we get another minor triad.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: Cm

  • 5th Degree – D

From the fifth degree of the minor scale we get:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
D – F – A From D to F is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From F to A is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
Minor Dm

The fifth degree of the minor scale gives us another minor triad, with a minor 3rd stacked with a major 3rd.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: Dm

6th Degree – E♭

From the sixth degree we get the following triad:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
E♭ – G – B♭ From E♭ to B♭ is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From G to B♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
Major E♭

With the sixth degree of the minor scale we get a major 3rd stacked with a minor 3rd, giving us a major triad.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: E♭

7th Degree – F

For the final triad in the minor scale we get the following:

Triad 3rds Triad Quality Chord Formed
F – A – C From F to A is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From A to C is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
Major F

The 7th degree of the major chord gives us another major triad.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: F

Chords in the G Minor Scale

The table below summarizes all the chords built from the G minor scale.

Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chord Gm Adim B♭ Cm Dm E♭ F

Minor Key Chords

With the minor scale harmonized, we can see the qualities of the minor key chords summarized in the table below.

Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Triad Quality Minor Diminished Major Minor Minor Major Major
Chord Pattern* i ii° III iv v VI VII
*Capital numerals are used to denote major while lowercase is used to denote minor.

While we used the G minor scale in this lesson, these chord qualities will apply to all natural minor scales.

Relative Scales

If you read the lesson on building major scale chords, then you may have noticed that the chords of the minor scale are exactly the same as the major scale, just ordered differently. This is because the major scale and natural minor scale are relative to each other. In other words, every major scale has a relative minor scale, or scale that contains all the same notes and chords.

Conclusion

To get started with chord progressions, first of all you need to know how to build chords that are diatonic (chords based on the key you place them in) a scale. Once that is understood, it’s easy to have your own riff and make the changes easy for yourself.

Chord progressions are fairly simple, but don’t be surprised if you find a few “substitutions” being used and not all chords in a progression being diatonic to the scale.

FAQ for How to Build Minor Scale Chords

What are minor scale chords?

The minor scale is one of the most popular and widely used scales in music. It consists of seven notes, with the first note as its root note. The minor scale is traditionally considered to have a sad or melancholic sound.

Minor chords are chords built on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth degrees of the major scale. They are often used in jazz and rock music to create a dark or mysterious sound.

How can a minor scale chord be built?

The major scale is the most common scale in music. It has seven different notes: A, B, C, D, E, F# and G.

In order to build a minor scale chord on the guitar we would need to play two notes below the root note of a major scale chord. We can do this by playing F# and G.

Where is the minor scale chord?

A minor scale chord is placed on the second string, third fret.

What is the difference between major and minor scales?

Major scales are composed of seven notes and minor scales are composed of six notes.

The difference between major and minor scales is that the former has a larger number of notes, which allows for more variety in the music.

How many minor scales are there?

The minor scale is one of the most popular scales in Western music. It is a natural scale that is based on a series of half steps and whole steps. There are seven minor scales in music.

The major scale is the most basic one and it consists of 7 notes, while the natural minor scale has 6. The other 5 scales are the melodic, harmonic, pentatonic, whole-tone and blues scales.

Minor scales are used to play sad songs or to create dark or mysterious moods in music.

What are the best ways to use minor scale chords in a song?

The minor scale is one of the most important scales in music. It’s a scale that has a “minor” sound to it, which means it doesn’t have the same power as major scales.

Some of the best ways to use minor scale chords in a song are when you are trying to create tension, sadness, or longing.

The best way to use minor scale chords is when they are used with “major” chords.

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