Chords for Minor Key Songs

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

Looking for chords to harmonize your minor-key song? There are actually two different ideas out there for what it means to be “in a minor key.” The one idea is based on traditional harmony, while the other is a more “modal” approach.

I’ve put some examples of minor key chord progressions on this page, and they’re similar to the kinds of chords I’ve included in my e-books, especially “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” So if you’re looking for more chord ideas, and lots more progressions you can use, check out those e-books. They’re downloadable, printable, and you can use them any way you wish.

The traditional rules of harmony state that in order to be “in a key”,there needs to be a leading tone present in the dominant chord. If you don’t have a strong background in the rules of harmony, no worries… here are some progressions that fulfill that rule:

Am  Dm  E  Am
Am  Ddim  Am  F  E  Am
Am  F  C  E  Am

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In each of those progressions, the E chord is the dominant chord, which quite naturally moves back to Am. The E chord contains the note G#, which is the leading tone of the key you’re in: Am. You can hear, when you play the E, that the note G# really wants to move up to A, and that’s the theory behind how the leading tone works.

But especially in the field of pop music, you’ll find that the leading tone isn’t used so much. In short, many songwriters feel that the G# leading tone is a bit too obvious, a bit too predictable. So you’ll find that in many chord progressions, the G# is not used, opting for chords that use a G-natural. This is a more modal approach to chord progressions. Here are some examples:

Am  G  Am
Am   F  Em  Am
Am  C  G  Am
Am  Dm  G  Am
Am  Em  Am  Dm  Em  F  G  Am

Try playing around with those chords, and find combinations that you like. In traditional harmony, we’d call those progressions “natural minor key progressions” because all of the chords that lead to the final Am chord use a G-natural instead of G#.

For more hundreds more examples of chord progressions, along with comprehensive advice on how to make your songs better,check out Gary Ewer’s suite of songwriting e-books.

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