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What chords should I use in a minor scale.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bassinplace, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    I hope I'm asking this properly. What I mean is if a song is in a minor key, say A minor, are the chords of that scale still going to be I Major, ii minor, iii minor, IV Major, V Major, vi minor, vii half diminished? Or will they be something different when dealing with a minor key?
  2. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Tampa, FL.
    Only if you start on the third of the minor scale (aka C Major) would it follow that pattern. If you're starting on A it will obviously be A minor, or the vi chord of C Major. Make sense? It's all relative.
  3. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
    they will be something different. and what they will be become will vary based on the minor scale used as the tonic. (natural, melodic, harmonic)
  4. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    Ah yes, that does make sense. I haven't looked at the cycle in a long time. I need to study that. At least I think I follow. So say I'm in the key of g minor. It would be I Major, ii minor, iii half diminished, IV Major, v minor, vi minor, VII Major. Yeah?
  5. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    In 'most' cases, A minor will be the dorian of G.
  6. Minor scales come in flavours. You've heard of these right?

    Natural Minor
    Harmonic Minor
    Melodic Minor

    Depending on the era of the music style, all three of the above will be used in a piece of music to best bring out the minor sound and flavour.

    Descending lines and progressions might feature sounds from the Natural Minor version. Tonal chord progressions might feature sounds from the Harmonic Minor version (hence the name). Ascending lines and progressions might feature sounds from the Melodic Minor (ascending) version (hence the name).

    That's why major is easier, 1 sound palette for it all. For minor, you'll most often encounter 3 palettes of sound in traditional tonal music.

    Most minor mode songs we hear are from the Aeolian (6th) mode of Major. Songs in Dorian or Phrygian are either very old, very new or from traditions that employ those specific sounds.
  7. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
    in a minor key the I chord will never be major
  8. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    •A natural minor scale notes: A B C D E F G
    •Natural minor key chord sequence: min dim maj min min maj maj

    The following site will answer your question. http://www.guitar-chords.org.uk/chords-key-c.html

    I suggest you bookmark it.
  9. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Tampa, FL.
    Not at all lol, but that's okay :)

    Let's look at what you wrote:

    I Major, ii minor, iii minor, IV Major, V Major, vi minor, vii half diminished

    If we're in the key of C major then:

    I chord = C major
    ii chord = D minor
    iii chord = E minor
    IV chord = F major
    V chord= G major
    vi chord = A minor
    vii = B half diminished

    Now why are some of them major and some of them minor? The simple answer is that it's all relative to the third of each starting note. So C has a major third thanks to E, but D has a minor third because of F. If you look at the distance between C to E and D to F on your bass's neck you'll notice that D to F is a shorter distance (one fret or one half step) than C is to E. This difference in tonality signifies the difference in something being major or minor. A major third is always two whole steps away from your starting note, and a minor third is always a whole step + a half step away from your starting note (and that starting note can be anything).

    Now you lucked out by picking A minor because it's the relative minor to C major. But what does that mean? Simply put, if you play all the notes in the A minor scale you'll realize that they are all the same notes in the C major scale! The difference is that we started on a different note (this is the basis for modes). If we're still in the key of C major (or A minor for that matter) and play a chord based off of it's vi degree (A) we will have played an A minor chord. Why is it minor? Because C is a whole step + a half step away from A! Do you now see how it's all relative?

    But what if we move up to B? Well that's the half-diminished vii chord, and it's half diminished because of the flat third (D) and flat fifth (F) that's in it. If we move up to C from there then we will finally be on the I chord (aka C major).
  10. kirkdickinson

    kirkdickinson Supporting Member

    Natural A minor would be the relative minor of C Major. I think of A Minor as the vi chord and use my Major scale chord knowledge. This is not the universal method though.


    My thinking:

    A Minor
    vi Amin
    vii Bdim
    I CMaj
    ii Dmin
    iii Emin
    IV FMaj
    V GMaj (dom 7)
    vi Amin

    Some schools teach:
    A Minor
    i Amin
    ii Bdim
    III CMaj
    iv Dmin
    v Emin
    VI FMaj
    VII GMaj (dom 7)
    i Amin
  11. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
    no one has addressed harmonizing the melodic minor or harmonic minor, which would both be more common as a tonic minor than the natural minor due to the leading tone. i guess i could, but that's alot of typing. ill let one of you guys do it
  12. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    The chords for a scale don't just appear out of nowhere, nor are they whatever you want. If you want to know what chords are in the scale, learn to harmonize the scale!!! Duh...

    It's easy too. Just stack up thirds using only notes of the scale. For example, in C Major (we'll get to the minor scales in a minute) you write out:

    C D E F G A B C

    Then stack the thirds on top, STAYING in the the C major scale
    E F G A B C D E
    C D E F G A B C

    Then stack another third on top...
    G A B C D E F G
    E F G A B C D E
    C D E F G A B C

    And one more time for the 7th chords....
    B C D E F G A B
    G A B C D E F G
    E F G A B C D E
    C D E F G A B C

    Now look at those stacks. C E G B is the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the C Major, and it's a major third with a minor third and then a major third on top. That's a major 7 chord starting on C so it's CMaj7. The D F A C is 1, b3, 5, b7 of D Major, and it's a minor third then a major third, then another minor third on top. That's a minor 7 built on D so it's Dmin7. Work out the rest for yourself. That way you'll see and understand WHY the I and IV are always major 7, the ii, iii, and vi are minor 7, the V is a dominant7, and the vii is a minor7 b5.

    Now if you do the same thing with a natural minor you get
    G A B C D E F G
    E F G A B C D E
    C D E F G A B C
    A B C D E F G A

    Now THOSE stacks give you:

    i min7, ii min7 b5, III Maj7 iv min7, v min7, VI Maj7, VII dom 7. That's a problem though... the VII (G7) pulls your ear to the II chord (C) just like it does in C major. And there's not that strong a pull from the five (Emin7) to the one (Amin7). But, if you change the G to G#, you totally alter any chord that has G in it. So now your stacks are...

    G#A B C D E F G#
    E F G#A B C D E
    C D E F G#A B C
    A B C D E F G#A

    And that gives you:
    Amin major 7, Bmin7, CAug7, Dmin7, E7, FMaj7, and G#dim. That removes the pull of the G chord to the C, and at the same time gives you an E7 that'll resolove to the Amin7. That's the harmonic minor scale, named so because it alters the natural minor for harmonic reasons.

    But, it sound funny to people (well, not really- harmonic minor is instant Richie Blackmore!!!). So to fix the problem with the minor third between the 6th tone (F) and the 7th tone (G#), they created the melodic minor by raising the 6th a half-step.

    OK, so those are the chords that occur naturally in a natural minor scale and a harmonic minor scale. But in the real world, lots of melodies will go out of being strictly in any one minor scale. The chords you use will be based on the minor scales, but not always consistently. You might find the G natrual and the G# in the harmony and/or melody at different times. Like an E7 going to Amin7 where the V chord is E G# B D and the i chord is A C E G.

    But learning how to harmonize a scale was the biggest breakthrough for putting music and harmony together for me. Learn it and use it!

  13. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    +1,000. Was for me also. Once you learn how to stack one scale in 3rds you then can figure out what chords are in any scale.

    Do yourself a favor, take 5 minutes, and stack a scale.

    Stack the A major scale - here are the notes:
    A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G# - now figure out the chords. Stacking in 3rds is using every other note........

    To fully see the chord, I have to take JTE's method and add one more step. Not as smart as JTE - LOL. The scale notes A, C#, E, G# do not tell me what kind of A chord that is - I have to add the scale degrees (chord spelling) for that to become clear, so..... As all those notes are in the A major scale - we have the following chord spelling; R-3-5-7 or the Amaj7 chord. Now the B chord -- B, D, F#, A. In the B major scale there is a D# and an A# so in our stack we have flatted that D# and the A# and in doing that our spelling is now R-b3-5-b7 and that spelling makes a Bm7 chord. OK you do the rest.

    A b3 indicates a minor chord
    A b7 indicates a minor seven or major dominant seven chord. See what happens to the E chord.

    This may help. http://www.smithfowler.org/music/Chord_Formulas.htm

    Either method, JTE's or which ever one you may have heard about, main thing is to learn how to stack 3rds so you never have to ask what chords are used with this scale.

    Have fun.
  14. zenman


    Jan 30, 2008
    St. Paul, MN
    JTE and MalcolmAmos, you guys rock.

    I have learned so much from the both of you. And I continue to be impressed with your selfless willingness explain this stuff over and over to help people out. It's folks like you two that make Talkbass such an awesome resource. Thank you.
  15. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Something I subconsciously knew, but only yesterday was it explicitly pointed out to me is that you can build the chords(or find the chord tones) using the scale shape that defines the key(to some extent... you will run out of string eventually)
    Take the minor shape on the bass. first string: 1, 3, 4, next string: 1, 3, 4, next string: 1, 3
    If you play that starting on the fifth fret of the E string, that's A-minor.
    The chord tones of scale are the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale. So, starting w/ A, you get the first chord as A, C, E, or the A-minor chord/arppeggio. This is the first(i) chord in your Key.
    Starting w/ the 2nd note of the A-minor scale, play the first, third, and fifth of the NEW scale using the same hand position and fingering(You might also say that you are playing the 2nd, 4th and 6th of the original scale), you get B, D, and F or B-dim. That's the 2nd(ii) chord in the key
    Starting w/ the 3rd note of the A-minor scale, do the same thing(same position, just and you get C, E, G, or C major. That's your 3rd(III) chord in the key.

    And so on. At some point, you'll have to shift your hand because you're out of strings

    This is really just stacking 3rds, as it applies directly to PLAYING scales, rather than writing them down. I'm certainly not diminishing the importance of writing down. In fact, I don't know that this idea would have stuck w/ me if I hadn't first learned about stacking 3rds on paper, but this concept helps me play things a little easier w/o moving around the neck so much.
  16. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Now your getting the ideas under your fingers, all learning scales or relating to scales does is give you a reference, you do not play scales...as many assume you do, you harmonise scales to get chords, and from those chords you extract the notes. (chord tones as they are called)
    Some people will have you believe that you just learn the chord tones,you will just see the chord tones if you will. But the truth and reality is you eventually only hear and see the Chord Tones, or any other part of it that you want to use or reference, if you learn to harmonise scales.

    Sure this takes time, but it is a deeper learning, a more relevant learning that you can use, adapt, and relate many musical ideas to.
    Never mind learning chord tones as a seperate thing, learn them as being part of scales that can harmonise them, it is the same thing in the end, but by learning to harmonise scales you are working out options, learning to think your way to conclusions and seeing a bigger relationship between keys, chords and notes.
    Malcolm and a few others have posted a few ideas on finding chord tones from harmonising scales such as "stacking thirds"..check them out it really will pay of big time if you learn to harmonise scales rather than just learn chord tone.:)
  17. If you start in Bb, you have

    1. Bb Major
    2. C Dorian (Minor)
    3. D Phrygian (minor)
    4. Eb Lydian (Major)
    5. F Mixolydian (dominant)
    6. G Aeolian (minor)
    7. Ab Locrian (half-diminished)

    So yes, you would be correct.
    However, working in the context of G Minor, it's a little different.

    1. G Aeolian
    2. Ab Locrian
    3. Bb Major
    4. C Dorian
    5. D Phrygian
    6. Eb Lydian
    7. F Mixolydian

    So, if you're working with a 1-4-5 progression in G minor, you'll have G Minor, C Minor, D Minor. If you're working modally or strictly diatonically, they'll be aeolian, Dorian, and Phrygian. There is nothing wrong with substituting these for natural minor chords or for emphasizing the different tonal notes. That will depend on the song and the songwriter. A lot will depend on if you're writing your own song or working from what somebody else wrote.

    If you're working in the context of somebody else's songs, the better way to work is to get their chords and work something out around that.
  18. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    Wow JTE, that really spells it all out for me, literally! Thanks so much for your help! :) MalcomAmos and everyone else too thanks so much for all your help! Looks like I've got something to chew on for awhile. ;) :cool:
  19. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    I'm pretty sure most people will ignore this post. And then wonder why the tune they're playing in A minor has an E7 as the V chord. That's usually how these work.
  20. I kind of addressed this. I'm in a rush now.. but basically the chords qualities we want to use, chooses (even creates?) the scale.

    Most people in minor want.
    i to be minor. iv to be minor
    V to be dominant
    VI and VII to be major
    ii to be diminished
    III to be major.

    balanced my the melodic desire in previous eras to avoid the MELODIC aug2 between 6 and #7, using #6 and #7 instead. Balanced by the desire to avoid a major triad iv chord, we want iv, not IV. We like iv - V.

    So there are some conflicts in the above when played all together, but we never play them all together, it's one chord at a time. So we shift between the alterations to get the sounds we want.

    The chords of the moment choose the scale of the moment. To get the popular minor sounds, we shift back and forth between the 3 forms of minor.