Chord Progressions for a Minor Key

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The vast majority of songs out there are written in a major key, so for those of you who avoid minor keys, you’re missing out on an entire palette of colours. Minor key music has a different feel, and a different effect on the listener.

If you’ve written a song but you can’t seem to get the lyrics to sound right, it may be useful to try switching over to the minor mode. This will not only mean that your chords will be different, but (of course) the melody will likely have to change Have your songwriting ideas dried up?slightly.

To give you an idea of the effect we’re talking about, here are some simple short melodic fragments, first given in a major key, and then in a minor key equivalent:

Ex.1:

A  D  A  Bm  A (Listen – opens in a new browser window)

Am  Dm  Am  G  Am (Listen)

Ex. 2:

A  A/G#  F#m  E (Listen)

Am  G  F  G (Listen)

Ex. 3:

A  D/A A  D/A  Bm/A  A (Listen)

Am G/A  Am  Dm  G/A  A (Listen)

The minor mode gives the music a darker mood, with potential for a bit more edge. These are just midi files that I’ve posted here, so you’ll have to use your imagination and your own instrumentation to bring them to life.

-Gary Ewer
Songwriting tips! Write Better Chords, Melodies and
Hooks!
.

Posted in Chord Progressions, songwriting and tagged , , , .

13 Comments

  1. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if perhaps
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    Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know
    if this is happening to them as well? This could be a issue with
    my browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Thank you

    • Hmm… I don’t have that problem, and I’ve not ever had anyone mention that. What browser/OS are you using? If you’re using Internet Explorer on a PC, you might want to try Googling “compatibility view” to see if that helps.

      -Gary

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  3. Hi Gary,
    I was exploring the Minor key and building some chord progressions with it. I just stayed in-Key, but one time, I accidentally hit a bV degree (flat 5th degree) chord – it sounded strange and dark, but it did not sound that bad considering it’s an off-key chord. It sounded more like a “doomy” space exploration from space movies though (luckily, which is what I’m looking for). It definitely gave a new color to my chord progression and it’s not boring anymore..

    The chord progression are as follows (F# Minor Key):
    F#m-C-Bm
    or
    F#m-C5(power chord)-Bm

    In my chord progression, C is the bV degree chord.
    I was wondering though, why it didn’t sound as ugly as the other off-key chord I’ve tried to mix with this chord progression. It’s tough just guessing the chord and I couldn’t explain why it sounded that way. Any idea about this? Your help and advice is very much appreciated. 🙂

    • Hi Januel:

      The reason it sounds acceptable is because your musical ear makes sense of it by hearing all the notes of the C chord as being only a semitone away from the Bm chord. The Bm makes a lot of sense, of course, being the iv-chord of F#m. So when you play the F#m chord, there’s an initial “jarring” quality to the C chord, since C doesn’t exist in F#m. But as soon as the Bm happens, it “retroactively” helps the C make sense.

      It’s a kind of trick that Romantic-era musicians used to great effect, particularly Wagner. He would take a chord and start to move the notes around by semitones. That helped the listener make sense of what they were hearing, even though the results may not have been to create chord progressions that made tonal sense.

      Thanks for writing,
      -Gary

      • Hi Gary,
        Oh okay! That was very helpful in understanding this progression; I was wondering about why it sounded this way for days before I asked here (made me a bit crazy too LOL!). Thank you for your helpful response! 🙂

  4. The progression iii – V – i is a bit strange… I think the one you’re using is iii – V- vi.

    Transposing to an easier key is not cowardly… sometimes it’s necessary for singing.

  5. Thanks, very helpful.

    If you don’t mind, I’m confused by the modal chords(?) in a minor key.

    Let’s say I have a iii V i progression so that is:
    Em G Am ? and bVI Vii i is Bb C Dm. Obviously, I’m cowardly trying to transpose to an easier key although I guess you’d say there are no “Easier keys” only lazier musicians.

  6. What we call “modal chords” are often the ones you mentioned: bIII, bVI and bVII, and can involve others, like bV. So some examples might be:

    I bV IV bVI I

    I bIII bVI IV I

  7. Thinking in terms of I IV V or I vi IV V7 etc

    If I want to add modal chords to progressions my choices are most likely what chords? biii,bVi and bVII? I know that’s not the way too look at it, but will that work?

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