Ready? Great! Let’s learn about minor chords. Minor chords have a somber sound compared to the happier-sounding major chords. Despite their distinctly different sounds, major and minor chords are only different by one note. I prefer to think of minor chords as altered major chords and that’s how we’ll learn about minor chords today.
First, let’s review the recipe for a major chord: major third + minor third. If we were to use this recipe to create an E major chord, it would look like this:
Starting on root E, we find that the third is G♯ and the fifth is B for an E major chord. I’m going to use my knowledge of the fretboard to create an easily-fingered E major chord in open position. All I have to do is find all of the Es, G♯s and Bs on the nut and first three frets:
Alright, now we’ve established what an E-major chord looks like. Now let’s look at an E minor chord. The recipe for a minor chord is:
Root + minor third interval = Third
Third + major third interval = Fifth
In short, the interval recipe for a minor chord is minor third + major third. Notice that this recipe is the opposite of a major chord. Let’s use the minor chord’s minor third + major third recipe to create an E minor chord.
At this point, I want to point out a couple of things. First, notice that the fifth is B for both the E major chord and the E minor chord. Why? The reason is simple math: 4 +3 = 7, just the same as 3 + 4 = 7. The minor chord recipe uses the same two intervals as the major chord recipe but in the opposite order.
So, remember this: major and minor chords of the same root note will share the same note on the fifth of the triad. That means that the only note that is changing between a major and minor chord of the same root is the third. That is the second observation: major and minor chords of that same root are different by one note. Flatten the third of a major chord to get a minor chord. As the illustration above indicates, the third of the E major chord is being flattened by a half-step to create the E minor chord.
Our triad for an E minor chord is root E, third G and fifth B. I’m going to use my an E major chord to help me find the fingering for the E minor chord. All I need to do is find the third of the major chord (G♯) and flatten it by a half-step:
Our E minor chord looks like this:
To sum up, here are the things to remember about minor chords:
- A minor chord has a minor third + major third interval recipe.
- The fifth of a minor chord is the same as the fifth of a major chord of the same root.
- The only difference between a major and a minor chord of the same root is the third. The third determines the major or minor tonality of the chord.
- A minor chord can be created by starting with a major chord and flattening its third by a half-step.
Next: diminished chords.
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