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Minor Key Chord Progressions, With 15 Examples

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There are two ways to go when it comes to writing songs in minor keys.

Creating “Truly Minor Key” Progressions

There’s more to writing a minor key chord progression than meets the eye. First, let’s take a natural minor scale and create some chords over each note:

Key: A minor

Scale: A B C D E F G A

If you build a 3-note chord (a triad) above each note of that scale, you get these chords:

  • i: Am
  • ii°: Bdim
  • III: C
  • iv: Dm
  • v: Em
  • VI: F
  • VII: G

As you can see, the chords built on the first, fourth and fifth notes will be minor, the chords on the third, sixth and seventh notes will be major, and the one built on the second note will be diminished.

According to music theory, though, for a progression to truly be minor, the fifth triad needs to be modified to be a major chord. That’s because turning Em into E means raising the middle note of Em — the G note — by a semitone, and having it be G#. That G# acts as a so-called leading tone to A, and makes the Am chord sound all the more like a tonic.

So now that you have your seven naturally-occuring chords in A minor, you can create progressions easily that use just those chords. Here are five examples:

  1. Am E  F  Dm  Am
  2. Am  F  C  E  Am
  3. Am  Dm  F  Bdim/D  Am
  4. Am  G  C  Dm  E  F  Esus4  E  Am
  5. Am  E  Dm  E  Bdim/D  E  Am

Creating Minor Mode Progressions

The Aeolian Mode

If you follow the procedure outlined above, but don’t raise the middle note of the V-chord, you’ll wind up with music in the aeolian mode. To create an aeolian scale, find the sixth note of a major scale, and play a new scale starting on that note, using the key signature of the major scale.

So for example, find the sixth note of C major (A), play a scale starting on that note that uses the key signature of C major (all naturals, in the case of C major): A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.

You’ll find that creating chord progressions in A aeolian is not that difficult. The chords will be the same as the ones listed above for the key of A minor, with the difference that the v-chord will be a minor chord.

Here are five examples you can try:

  1. Am  G  Am  Dm  Am
  2. Am  Em  F  Dm  Am
  3. Am  G/B  C  Dm  Am
  4. Am  F  Em  F  G  Am
  5. Am  Dm  Am  G  F  Em  Am

The Dorian Mode

There’s another good minor mode choice which is to create progressions in the dorian mode. This is done by finding the second note of a major scale, and playing a new scale starting on that note, using the key signature of the major scale.

If you use the key of C major, but play a scale starting on D, the dorian scale would be: D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The chords you’ll choose from will be:

  • Dm
  • Em
  • F
  • G
  • Am
  • Bdim
  • C

So creating chord progressions in D dorian means starting and ending on Dm. One of the important and interesting features of a dorian progression is the fact that the fourth chord will be major, which is perhaps the most important characteristic of progressions in this mode.

Here are five examples:

  • Dm G Dm C Dm
  • Dm Am F  Dm
  • Dm  C  Dm  G  F  Am  Dm
  • Dm  Am  G/B  C  Dm
  • Dm  Em  Dm  G  Dm  Em  Dm

It’s possible to find yourself stuck in major keys as a musical habit when you write songs. If this describes your own songwriting, try improvising some musical ideas using any of the minor key or minor mode examples above.

Experimenting in minor can give you access to different moods that you might never have considered for your songs. If you’ve been using major keys almost exclusively, trying a song in a minor key or mode can offer you an entirely new set of emotions you might not have considered before.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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