A minor key may add just the right mood to your lyric. Here’s how to create minor chord progression.
There are 2 common ways that songwriters get the feeling of minor across to their audience. The first way is to choose mostly minor chords from the major key, and this way is actually very common. Here’s how it works:
In C major, there are 7 naturally-occurring chords. You create them by playing a triad above each note of the major scale, and you wind up with these:
C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim
You’ll notice that some of those chords are major (C – F – G), while others are minor (Dm – Em – Am), and one which is diminished (Bdim). Most songs in a major key will use a mixture of mainly major and some minor chords. Typical chord progressions might be something like:
- C F G C
- C Dm G C
- C Am F G
- C F Am G C
- Am F Dm G C
…and so on. What really makes it sound major is the fact that each progression ends on the tonic (C) chord. Even that final progression above, Am F Dm G C, despite the fact that it starts on Am, still sounds major by the time it’s done, because you can hear the typical chords that point directly to the tonic. Each progression ends with a strong move to the tonic.
Do you like starting the songwriting process with chords? Check out “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” (Gary Ewer), to find the best way forward with that method. It’s part of the 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle. READ MORE..
In many pop songs, you’ll find that the writer simply chooses mostly minor chords from the list of 7 chords, and they try to end phrases (e.g., lines of lyrics) on a minor chord. In that sense, they’re not really in a minor key, they’re simply choosing mostly minor chords from the major key.
Using chords in this way means that you’re actually in the Aeolian mode — specifically, A Aeolian — and these progressions are common, and very useful.
Typical progressions might be something like:
- Am Em F Am
- Am Dm Em Am
- Am G F G Am
- Em F C Em Am
- C Am Dm Em Am
As you can see, they all feature mostly minor chords, and they all have a strong move to Am at the end. Am is a common choice for chords that have been taken from the key of C major. That’s because A minor is the “relative minor” of C major: they both use the same key signature. In this case, we’re “pretending” to be in A minor by choosing mainly minor chords from C major.
So when you hear Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower“, you’re really listening to something in C# Aeolian: chords that have all been taken from the key of E major, but using C# as an important starting/ending point rather than E.
So what’s the other kind of minor? It’s when you are truly in a minor key, like the song “California Dreamin‘”, which starts with this progression:
C#m B A G#sus4 G# A E G# C#m A G#sus4 G# C#m…
It’s the G# chord that plants this song firmly in C# minor. The G# uses the notes G#-B#-D#. That B# (the same as C) acts as a leading tone which points directly to C#. That’s why the G# chord is almost always followed by C#m… it’s the dominant chord in C# minor.
So “California Dreamin'” is not using chords taken from E major, as we know there is no G# chord in E major. It’s taking chords from C# minor (many of which, granted, are in common with E major).
If you’re looking for a chart of chords for each minor chord, take a look at this one from GuitarByte.net.
And for one more thing to try: many major key melodies can be successfully harmonized with minor chords, making them sound like minor key melodies. To read a bit more about that, try this post I did a couple of years ago.
Written by Gary Ewer
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