Minor Scale Chords – The Ultimate Reference Guide For All Guitarists

When I was about 13 or 14, my music teacher made me write out everything. I hated him at the time for that; but, today I’m so grateful. I wanted to learn rock tunes and he taught me music. Ah, the sweet ignorance of youth!

He made me buy a music notebook… And, use it!

I would fill it with pages and pages of private-lesson homework. He would give me five pages of homework per week. Write out the scale, then the triads, then the seventh chords, then the formulas for the scales and chords, et al. It was painstaking work and my mother loved him.

That being said, in order to better understand minor scale chords, I’m gonna share with you a much more neater and organized version of my music notebook.

I’ve included a table (for each scale) that I had initially used for understanding the terms, then used it as a teaching tool, and now it serves as a quick overview of the information pertaining to each scale. I certainly hope that you find it useful.

Also, the music notation provides much of the same information as the table, but in musical form, and, I also wish that you find this helpful.

And, with that, welcome to this minor-scale chords reference guide.

Opening Words

In a recent article, “Beginner’s Guide to the Minor Scale,” I wrote about the natural minor scale, the theory behind the scale, reviewed the major/minor relationship, covered the minor scale formula and introduced 5 must-know patterns.

This post is a companion to that “Beginner’s Guide...” piece. Here, we’re gonna compare different minor scales and the diatonic chords that they create.

These are the scales that we’ll cover:

  • The Natural Minor

  • The Harmonic Minor

  • The Jazz Minor

  • The Dorian Mode

And, we’ll take a look at the chords that they create.

Understanding the Minor Scale/Chord Table

The table serves as a quick guide for each scale and its related chords. The table illustrates:

  1. Scale Formula: If you use the major scale as a reference then this formula applies. Notice that each scale has a flat 3 (or minor third) and that’s the main identifying component of each scale (minor third = minor scale). Next, please note that the main differences between the scales are the 6th and 7th degrees. I’ll cover this in the “Side-By-Side Comparison” section.

  2. Notes: Once you apply the formula to the major scale, make the necessary alterations and create the minor scale, you’ll end up with the actual scale notes. We begin with A natural minor because this scale does not include any sharps or flats.

  3. Triads: By stacking thirds (or every other note), we create three-note chords called triads. These triads are the chords that are diatonic (or native to that key). Notice that some chords are found in each scale while others aren’t.

  4. 7th Chords: If we stack an additional note then we’ll create a four-note chord. Four-note chords are also known as seventh (7th) chords and are sometimes referred to as jazz chords; however, 7th chords are becoming more and more common in pop music.

  5. Harmony: Roman numerals are used to indicate the chord function. Roman numerals can be used for triads as well, but, I chose to use them only for the 7th-chord harmony because of the increased variations created in the diatonic four-note versions of the chords.

Understanding the Music Notation

Each scale is also represented in standard music notation. For some people, this is an easier way to visualize the scale and the chords. The music notation shows three systems:

  1. The Scale: The first system shows the single-note scale, the scale formula in whole steps and half steps, and the scale degrees that make up that scale.

  2. The Triads: The second system depicts the three notes that make up the triad with a chord diagram of a popular version of the chord.

  3. The 7th Chords: The third system illustrates the four notes that make up the 7th chord with a chord diagram of a commonly-used version of the chord.

Side-By-Side Comparison

In the table below, we’ll look at each scale side by side. Again, I ask you to draw your attention to the 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees.

  • Notice that all of the thirds are flat (b3).

  • Then, check out the sixth and seventh degrees.

As you play the scales and compare the sounds and chords, you’ll notice the subtle differences that give each scale it’s charm. Now, you can begin to understand why minor scales provide you with many more options than their major counterpart.

Scale Degrees12345678
Natural MinorABC (b3)DEF (b6)G (b7)A
Harmonic MinorABC (b3)DEF (b6)G# (7)A
Jazz MinorABC (b3)DEF# (6)G# (7)A
DorianABC (b3)DEF# (6)G# (7)A

The Natural Minor Scale

This also known as the relative minor, is created by referencing the major scale. By starting on the 6th degree of the major scale, we create the natural minor. BTW, this is also referred to as the Aeolian Mode. So, this scale has three names:

  1. The Natural Minor Scale

  2. The Relative Minor of the Major Scale

  3. The Aeolian Mode

Scale Formula12b345b6b78
NotesABCDEFGA
TriadsAmCDmEmFGAm
7th ChordsAm7Bm7b5Cmaj7Dm7Em7Fmaj7G7Am7
HarmonyIm7IIm7b5bIIImaj7IVm7Vm7bVImaj7bVII7Im7
Minor Scale Chords Overview 1

The Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale is the same as the natural minor scale but with a raised 7th. This creates a minor 3rd interval between the 6th and 7th degrees giving this scale an exotic sound. This sound is popular in Eastern European folk music as well as classically-influenced rock and jazz.

Scale Formula12b345b678
Note NotesABCDEFG#A
TriadsAmCDmEmFG#°Am
7th ChordsAm(Δ7)Bm7b5Cmaj7+Dm7E7Fmaj7G#°7Am(Δ7)
HarmonyIm(Δ7)IIm7b5bIIImaj7+IVm7V7bVImaj7VII°7Im(Δ7)
Minor Scale Chords Overview 2

The Jazz Minor Scale

The jazz minor scale is created from the ascending version of the melodic minor scale (found in traditional harmony). The melodic minor ascends in the same way that the jazz minor does but descends using the natural minor pattern (because the melodic minor opens up a whole can of worms, I left it off of this list).

You can simply view the jazz minor scale as a major scale with a flat (or minor) 3rd. Jazz players from the post-Bop era made this scale popular; however, many modern guitarists are throwing into popular music.

Scale Formula12b345678
Note NotesABCDEF#G#A
TriadsAmBmC+DEF#°G#°Am
7th ChordsAm(Δ7)Bm7Cmaj7+D7E7F#m7b5G#m7b5Am7
HarmonyIm7IIm7b5bIIImaj7IVm7Vm7bVImaj7bVII7Im7
Minor Scale Chords Overview 3

The Dorian Mode

The Dorian Mode is a minor scale that’s built on the 2nd degree of the major scale. So, In this case, the A Dorian has the same notes as the G major scale. This scale is sometimes referred to as the “sweet-sounding” minor scale. The natural 6th degree creates a minor sound that’s not quite as dark as the natural minor scale.

Scale Formula12b3456b78
Note NotesABCDEF#GA
TriadsAmBmCDEmF#°GAm
7th ChordsAm7Bm7Cmaj7D7Em7F#m7b5Gmaj7Am7
HarmonyIm7IIm7bIIImaj7IVm7Vm7VIm7b5bVIImaj7Im7
Minor Scale Chords Overview  4

Minor Chord Reference Chart

Below is chart of some of the most commonly-used minor chords. There are three versions of each chord type:

  1. Root-5: The root is on the 5th string.

  2. Root-6: The root is on the 6th string.

  3. Root-4: The root is on the 4th string.

Generally, the root-5 version is also a movable shape even though it’s shown here as an open chord. I encourage you to try these out in other keys.

Minor Scale Chords Overview 5
Minor Scale Chords Overview 6
Minor Scale Chords Overview 7

Final Thoughts

Minor scales create an incredible array of sounds and some players like to refer to these sounds as colors. By adding a few of these chord ideas into your playing, you’ll discover a whole new level of expression. I encourage you to continue exploring more sounds, scales and chords while developing as a musician.

It’s my pleasure to share these ideas with you and I thank you for taking the time and reading this article.

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Ed Lozano
 

Ed Lozano is a professional guitarist, instructor, producer and published author. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and lives in the Andes mountains.

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