What Is a Minor Chord: Guitar Basics

If you have ever heard a song you found particularly haunting or mournful, the odds are high it was written in a minor key. If you find classics like R.E.M.'s “Losing My Religion” impossible to get out of your head, then if you probably have an affinity for the minor tone. In one famous experiment, that particular gloomy ballad was adjusted to a major chord and, suddenly, the entire concept of lost faith sounded far more upbeat. Understanding what a minor chord means for the overall tone and tenor of a composition is important.

How the chord affects the overall key in which the composition is written is imperative for musicians both professional and amateur.

What Is a Minor Chord?

A minor chord, by definition, is a slightly modified major chord. Do not worry if that description alone was not particularly helpful. We will help you build a minor chord so you can create them in any key you wish.

First, however, review a few classics written in minor keys, using mainly minor chords:

  • "Fur Elise" by Beethoven 
  • “A Taste of Honey” 
  • The folk tune “Greensleeves” 
  • “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”

Remember, these songs are written in minor keys, which differs from simply featuring minor chords. Songs may be written in minor keys and include major chords and vice versa. However, an awareness of the minor sound overall will help you better understand why you might want to use a minor chord in your music.

Building a Minor Chord

How to Use the Minor Chord

Minor Chords Have Many Places in Music

What Is the Difference between Major and Minor Chords?

The most significant difference between a major chord and a minor chord is one note: a third. As you learned earlier, that third changes the entire tone of a chord from bright, cheerful, and energetic to darker, sadder, and slower in many cases. There are exceptions to this rule, of course.

Most notable exceptions include:

  • “Moondance” by Van Morrison, which is minor but seems upbeat 
  • “Dinner at Eight” by Rufus Wainwright, which is major but seems downbeat 
  • "I Know It's Over” by the Smiths, which is major but downbeat

Minor chords are generally considered to sound:

  • Somber 
  • Serious 
  • Abnormal or atypical 
  • Sad 
  • Mournful 
  • Foreboding 
  • Lethargic

Major chords are generally considered to sound:

  • Happy 
  • Normal 
  • Excited 
  • Optimistic 
  • Pleasant 
  • Like have momentum 
  • Energetic

Of course, there are exceptions to these attributes, such as the ones listed above. There are also many incidents in which musicians combine the attributes of both chords to create something different and unique that is neither entirely one nor the other in terms of tone and feeling.

The Role of Minor Chords in Jazz

Minor Chords in the Movies

Minor Chords Get the Blues

A Minor Chord Can Be a Major Addition to Your Songs

woman playing brown acoustic guitar

image source: Pexels

The best thing a musician will gain from understanding the purpose of a minor chord is the ability to better emote and convey the passion and intent behind a piece of music. The best thing a composer will gain from understanding minor chords is likely the ability to optimize the chances that their compositions will be played, as they envisioned, by other musicians who may not know much about why the original piece was written. Because minor chords occur frequently in songs written in major keys, a musician should always consider using a minor chord if there is a need for contrast in a piece of music.  

Whether you wish the musician and audience to take a “breather” to consider what they have just heard or you want to create a “mirror effect” on the previously bright and cheerful strains by using minor chords instead of major ones while keeping the melody essentially the same, a composer will better elicit this type of performance from the musician and subsequent response from the audience if they fully understand how to properly leverage a minor chord.

Featured Image: Photo by Brent Keane from Pexels

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