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Learn Piano Minor Chords

Updated on January 11, 2022
Jon Green profile image

After teaching for years, I'm convinced that basic piano is essential for all musicians.

Playing minor chords

These minor chords all use the same shape, it's play-one-miss-one. Although it's good to understand the theory of chords and harmony, in practice you can make loads of fast progress by using a pattern-based approach.

How do intervals work? Assign a number to each note in a major scale. A C chord will have the notes 1, 3, 5 or C, E, G.

If you change the middle note to Eb, a black note, you have Cm (C minor) and the chord formula is 1, flat3, 5. So just changing this one note is the difference between a major chord and a minor chord, and every chord works in the same way.

If you look at the intervals involved, a minor chord is 1, flat 3, 5, whereas a major chord uses 1, 3, 5.

Dm = D, F, A If you apply a play-one-miss-one principle, this shape starts on a D note. Colour-coded green on the diagram.

Em = E, G, B Same shape, starts on E. Colour = blue

Am = A , C , E. Same shape, starts on A. Colour = red

The scale that works with these chords is Am pentatonic (pentatonic just means 5-note scale) or C major, C D E F G A B C.

Am pentatonic is the notes A, C, D, E, G, A shown on the lower picture.

Why use this scale instead of C major? It's just easier and will usually sound better as it avoids the two tricky notes that can clash with the chords.

Am chord (A minor)

Minor chords Dm, Em Am

Dm chord

Em chord

Chords in Am

These three chords are from the C or Am harmonised scales.

The Harmonised scale of C contains the chords C Dm Em F G Am B dim C

Any song in this key will use these chords, or some of them, to create harmony.

Am harmonised scale will use the same set of chords, but starting on Am instead, and in practice the Em can be replaced by an E7 chord, something you will often find in well known songs, even Moonlight Sonata is a good example.

Practical uses

You can use these three minor chords to play a minor 12-bar blues. They will sound much better if you put a bass note in your left hand, A for an Am chord, etc.

Minor 7th chords (m7)

In most situations in pop, rock, blues and country music you can improve the harmony in a very simple way - replace any minor chords with minor 7th (m7) chords.

For Dm7 - just move the D down to a C, the other two notes stay the same. You should have a low D in the bass (left hand) or it's won't work well.

Now, apply the same principle to the Em and Am chords. Em7 is D,G,B in the right hand, low E in the left.

Am7 - just move the A down to G. The notes in the chord are now A,G,C,E left to right.

All other minor chords work in the same way.


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