Minor Key Chord Patterns And Cadences

The Key Of A Minor

This lesson is all about chord progressions and chord patterns in the minor key. Since this lesson is written using the key of A minor there is an interactive diagram just below for you to acquaint yourself with this key.

As we learned in the previous lesson the system of tertial harmony, are harmony by thirds is applicable to the minor scale. Just below are the chords in the key of A minor for you to study, memorize and of course listen to. Memorize the names of the chords for both the triads and the 7th chords in the two examples to follow.


A Minor SongEarlier in this course you learned about the concept of key, to oversimplify it states that a melody composed entirely of notes belonging to a certain scale will match a set of diatonic chords belonging to that same scale. In the song below you should be listening for the general overall effect or quality of the traditional Appalachian folk song, I Wonder As I Wander, which is sad haunting in mysterious. You should also be listening for the three primary chords and their general overall effect, in the key of A minor. Those chords are the I chord or A minor, the IV chord or D minor and the V chord which is of course E minor. Although not a blues certainly, I Wonder As I Wander, is a I – IV – V song and beautifully illustrates the concept of the key of A minor through the use of basic chords and a melody featuring many chord tones and broken chords, or arpeggios.

Chord Patterns

Chord patterns are small common knowledge cadences or smaller bits of progressions that actually help to define a key. As the song above beautifully illustrates all combinations of the I chord, IV chord and V chord are fair game and anything that sounds right is right. You should study this example and play it on your guitar into you have internalized the sound of the three primary chords in the key of A minor.

The interactive illustrations below further explore chord patterns in this key. The first example uses the evergreen, always good sounding I minor to IV minor transition. These elements will mean something different to everyone who studies them but to me this I minor to IV minor transition sort of gets me in the gut, and sounds strong and keeps pleasantly returning my ear to the I chord.

The second example uses the always powerful bVII chord which behaves like and is considered a substitute for the dominant chord. The sensation of having your ear drawn back to the I chords is not subtle and is a good trick to use if you want a bad ass or hard rock sound. The bVII chord is another evergreen songwriting chop.

Minor Chord Progressions

Chord patterns are smaller cadences or smaller pieces harmonic material while chord progressions usually much longer and can represent entire songs are sections of songs. In the minor key virtually any and all combinations of the I – IV and V chords can be used to create and great sounding songs and progression as illustrated by the first example in this lesson. Equally as common as using the three primary chords in a minor key are minor step progressions, descend through the steps of the scale beginning on the root or the A minor chord in this case. These chords are called I, flat VII, flat VI and sometimes a V chord. Once again you any and all combinations of these chords seem to be useful and good sounding provided they are and the proper rhythmic context. Study the diagram below and play through the chords on your guitar as illustrated in the chord frames to the right.


Did you notice that in the chord diagrams there was an E major chord and not E minor chord? This is because E major is often used in place of E minor because of its stronger sense of cadence and resolution. In our next lesson we will study a scale called the harmonic minor scale and go more in-depth on this chord substitution.

Just below you see three musical examples employing the minor key step progression. These examples may remind you of famous hit songs, or some not so famous ones. Play through these songs and also memorize the names of the progressions as you are practicing them. These chord progressions and the smaller chord patterns that you studied earlier in this lesson are your core base of knowledge concerning the minor scale and its harmony.


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