Theory Made Easy 10

Minor Key Structures

There are four main Minor Key Structures - these are best understood by looking at Three Chord Tricks.

The first chord of the Three Chord Trick in a minor key is always going to be minor.

The other two could be major or minor.

I am going to use A minor as the reference Key - play all the chords as barres then you can move the structure up or down the neck to work out other keys.

The four different Three Chord Tricks are ; -

[ 1 ] Minor - Minor - Minor = Am - Dm - Em ( see diagram below )

[ 2 ] Minor - Major - Minor = Am - D - Em

[ 3 ] Minor - Major - Major = Am - D - E

[ 4 ] Minor - Minor - Major = Am - Dm - E

Before going on to discuss these in more detail a brief diversion into Dominant chords.

What is a Dominant chord ?

Basically it is the third chord of the three chord trick

Another way of naming the three chords is :- Root (I) ; Sub-dominant (IV) ; Dominant (V)

It is always a Major chord i.e. E Major in the Key of A

It is often a seventh i.e. E7 in the Key of A - this a Dominant Seventh chord.

It pushes back to the Root chord i.e. your ears want to hear the Root after hearing the Dominant - so you often see it being used at the end of a section to take you back to the beginning ( a turnaround )

You can see from this that the first two examples above [ 1 ] & [ 2 ] don't have a Dominant chord.

The Dominant chord can be added to either of these Key Structures as and when required - so in the same piece of music you might find an E minor chord in the verse and an E major chord or E7 as a turnaround chord.

For an example of this listen to ' It's a Mans World ' by James Brown ( key Eb minor ) The verse goes between Root and 5th both minors ( Ebm - Bbm ) but the verse ends and "turnsaround" using a Bb7 - a Dominant 7 chord.

Learn the structures bearing this in mind.

[ 1 ] A minor - D minor - E minor This Key Structure is also known as A Natural Minor - you should have spotted that it is exactly the same as the three relative minor chords we looked at in the key of C Major.

chord box

If you analyze the notes that make up these three chords you will find a scale of C Major.

It is in fact one of the Modes of C Major.

The scale used in this Mode is a C Major scale - starting and finishing on A

This is an A Natural Minor scale


The other chords that fit into this Key Structure are the chords from the C Major structure - so you should already know what they are.

We are using the Key Structure of C Major to play in the Key of A Minor


[ 1 ] Work out the chords and the scale for the Natural Minor Structure in some other Keys - use barre chords to find the Minor three chord trick and their relative Majors.
Having done this you could write the chords of the new key down and then play them as open chords ( if practical ).

[ 2 ] Compose some music using A minor as your root chord - using only other chords from this structure.
Then try adding a Dominant Seventh i.e. E7 ( not in the structure ) as a turnaround chord.