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How to Build Minor Scale Chords

In a previous lesson, we looked at how to build chords from the major scale, which is an important concept when it comes to understanding diatonic harmony. In this lesson we’re going to go through the process of building minor scale chords, which follows the same process as the major scale. The point of this process is to establish all the chords which are diatonic to the minor key. This is the basis of understanding and creating chord progressions.

Guitar Triads

The basis of chord construction begins with stacking thirds to create triads, the three notes that form the basic of a chord. Thirds refers to notes that are a third apart. You can also think of it as every other note in a scale, or the root, 3rd, and 5th degrees of a scale. These stacked thirds determine the quality of the triad:

  • Major – a triad with a major 3rd and perfect 5th, or a major 3rd + minor 3rd interval [7 semitones]
  • Minor – a triad with a flattened 3rd (minor 3rd) and perfect 5th, or a minor 3rd + major 3rd interval [7 semitones]
  • Augmented – a major triad with a raised 5th, or two major 3rd intervals [8 semitones]
  • Diminished – a minor triad with a flattened 5th, or two minor 3rd intervals [6 semitones]

As we go through each example below, how these qualities come about will become more clear.

G Minor Chords

To examine the process of building chords for minor keys, we’re going to use the key of G minor. The G minor scale includes the following notes, as seen on the fretboard diagram below:

G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F

Fretboard diagram of G minor scale notes
G Minor Scale

1st Degree – G

Stacking thirds from the first degree of the G minor scale we get the following triad:

G minor scale first degree triad, G B♭ D
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
G – B♭ – DFrom G to B♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From B♭ to D is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
MinorGm

From the first degree of the G minor scale, we have a minor 3rd stacked with a major 3rd. This gives us a minor triad, which means the chord on the first degree of the minor scale is a minor chord and has the following chord formula:

Root – ♭3 – p5

Note: See How to Read Scale Diagrams for more information on interval notation.

Chord: G minor


2nd Degree – A

Stacking thirds from the second degree of the G minor scale, we get the following triad:

G minor scale second degree triad, A C E♭
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
A – C – E♭From A to C is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From C to E♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
DiminishedAdim

From the second degree of the minor scale, we get a minor 3rd stacked with a minor 3rd, which results in a flatted 5th degree. This results in a diminished triad.

Root – ♭3 – ♭5

Chord: Adim (diminished)


3rd Degree – B♭

From the third degree of the minor scale we get the following stacked thirds:

G minor scale third degree triad, B♭ D F
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
B♭ – D – FFrom B♭ to D is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From D to F is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
MajorB♭

From the third degree we get a major 3rd stacked with a minor 3rd, giving us a major triad with the following formula.

Root – ▵3 – p5

Chord: B♭


4th Degree – C

Going from the fourth degree we get the following triad:

G minor scale fourth degree triad, C E♭ G
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
C – E♭ – GFrom C to E♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From E♭ to G is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
MinorCm

With the fourth degree of the minor scale we get another minor triad.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: Cm


5th Degree – D

From the fifth degree of the minor scale we get:

G minor scale fifth degree triad, D F A
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
D – F – AFrom D to F is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
From F to A is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
MinorDm

The fifth degree of the minor scale gives us another minor triad, with a minor 3rd stacked with a major 3rd.

Root – ♭3 – p5

Chord: Dm


6th Degree – E♭

From the sixth degree we get the following triad:

G minor scale sixth degree triad, E♭ G B♭
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
E♭ – G – B♭From E♭ to B♭ is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From G to B♭ is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
MajorE♭

With the sixth degree of the minor scale we get a major 3rd stacked with a minor 3rd, giving us a major triad.

Root – ▵3 – p5

Chord: E♭


7th Degree – F

For the final triad in the minor scale we get the following:

G minor scale seventh degree triad, F A C
Triad3rdsTriad QualityChord Formed
F – A – CFrom F to A is a major 3rd (4 semitones)
From A to C is a minor 3rd (3 semitones)
MajorF

On the seventh degree we get another major triad, giving us a major chord.

Root – ▵3 – p5

Chord: F

Chords in the G Minor Scale

The table below summarizes all the chords built from the G minor scale.

Scale Degree1234567
ChordGmAdimB♭CmDmE♭F

Minor Key Chords

With the minor scale harmonized, we can see the qualities of the minor key chords summarized in the table below.

Scale Degree1234567
Triad QualityMinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor
Chord Pattern*iii°IIIivvVIVII

*Capital numerals are used to denote major while lowercase is used to denote minor.

While we used the G minor scale in this lesson, these chord qualities will apply to all natural minor scales.

Relative Scales

If you read the lesson on building major scale chords, then you may have noticed that the chords of the minor scale are exactly the same as the major scale, just ordered differently. This is because the major scale and natural minor scale are relative to each other. In other words, every major scale has a relative minor scale, or scale that contains all the same notes and chords.

You can read more about this in the Relative Minor and Relative Major Scales lesson.

Wrap up

Writing and understanding chord progressions starts with an understanding of diatonic harmony. Now that we’ve looked at the process of building chords that are diatonic to a scale, you can use this as a jumping off point for writing your own chord progressions and studying existing progressions.

Keep in mind, however, that chord progressions aren’t always straight forward. Sometimes substitutions are used and not all chords in a progression are diatonic to a scale.

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