Easy guitar theory: minor chords

Understand how this essential scale works with this beginner lesson

(Image: © Future)

Just like the major kind, minor chords are used throughout every style of music. They’re also some of the easiest shapes to play - chances are you learned a few minor chords in your first lessons.

And, like most music theory, you’ll get the hang of how minor chords work if you’ve learned the major scale first (check out our guides to chords and scales for more on the major scale). This is because major chords use notes taken directly from the scale, and minor chords do the same, but with one small change: the third note is played a semitone lower. Read on and we’ll explain…

1. A change to the major scale

A major chord uses the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale. In minor chords, the 3rd interval is lowered by a semitone, taking you to a note that’s not found in the scale: in the key of A the C# note (the major 3rd) becomes a C.

You can see how the note changes here as you play the A major scale (A B C# D E F# G#), then the notes of an Am chord (A, C and E). In this key C is a ‘minor 3rd’ or ‘b3’.

2. Guitar chord shapes

Guitarists rarely play chords that follow the theoretical layout of notes. If you look at the notes of this open Am chord however, you’ll see that the theory is sound: the C# note found in A chords is changed to a C in Am chords.

Jam around A and Am and you should hear the mournful sound of the minor chord compared to the bright major chord. Balancing happy and sad sounds is the art of any good songwriter.

3. More chord shapes

Five chord shapes, all Am, but all in different positions on the guitar's fretboard. Spend some time working out the notes and you’ll see that they are all combinations of A, C and E notes.

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