Jimi Hendrix

Chord Ideas for Minor Key Songwriting

If you find that everything you write is in a major key, you’re missing out on an opportunity to create songs that tap into a darker or perhaps edgier side of music, a side that minor key writing offers.

It might be that you aren’t sure how to create minor key progressions, and so I’ve put a few examples you can use or experiment with below.

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Minor key writing might mean writing in a minor mode (aeolian, dorian, etc.), or the music might be in a minor key (D minor, A minor, etc.) If all this discussion about keys and modes is a bit confusing, you might try some of the articles I’ve linked to at the end of this blog post.

For now, though, if you’re simply wanting to try to get a minor sound upon which to create song melodies, try the following progressions and feel free to change them to suit whatever you’re working on. They work in any tempo, style and/or time signature:

  1. Am G F G Am. This is the progression from “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan). With just these chords, you don’t have enough information to say whether it’s in A minor, A Aeolian or A Dorian. It really doesn’t matter… it’s got a nice sense of symmetry as it starts on A minor, moves by tones down to F, and then back up again.
  2. Am Dm E7 Am. This is a standard A minor progression. The E7 is a major chord, which is standard for progressions that are in a key, and not a mode.
  3. Bm F# A E G D Em F# Bm. This is the opening to “Hotel California.” It’s what we call a harmonic sequence, in that it starts on Bm and descends a 4th; the next leg of the sequence starts on A and descends a 4th to E, then G to D, before twisting around to return to Bm. Chords aren’t protected by copyright, but this one is distinctive, and if you’re going to use it, you’ll want to rather massively change something else about the music: a new tempo, definitely a radically different melody, etc.
  4. Em A D Bm. This is a nice minor key turn-around. You can keep playing this one over and over, because the end of the progression (Bm) leads easily back to the start of the progression (Em)
  5. Dm Am G____Bb F A. There are a couple of ways to look at this progression. It’s either thought of as dorian mode (the G chord gives us that). Or it could simply be thought of as straight-ahead D minor, with a modal mixture G major chord. As I said earlier, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to the task of writing.

If you want to know more about modes, keys, and the differences between them, try the following articles:

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

How to Harmonize a Melody, 2nd ed.“How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you the steps to adding chords to that melody you’ve just come up with. With sound samples to help you understand the concepts. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”

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