How to Write a Minor Chord Progression

Introduction

Since I started teaching guitar, I’ve worked with hundreds of students who are keen to be able to write their own songs, or just simply string together chord progressions to jam over. I find that many guitar players who cut their teeth playing rock, classic rock, and blues are all drawn to more minor key chord progressions.

Knowing how to construct and understand minor progressions is such a useful concept. If you’ve read the lesson on How to Write Major Chord Progressions, you will be somewhat familiar with this concept already. You can also check out this article for a more in-depth understanding of chord progressions.

In this lesson, you’re going to be learning how to write Minor Chord progressions and we’re going to explore that concept in a few commonly used keys.

There is some useful theory knowledge in the lesson about major chord progressions so if you’ve not checked that out, I would recommend checking that out first. Understanding the major side of things helps a little because the scale we use to construct minor key progressions is similar to the major scale that we used in the last lesson. The only different is that 3 of the notes have been flattened.

This lesson will make it a breeze for you to write awesome sounding minor chord progressions in any key you want.

Let’s get started!

Theory Basics

Once again, this is a concept that you can apply to any key, so if you want to move this around you simply move the scale shape to a new root note and work from there.

The scale you are going to learn for this is known as the Natural Minor scale.

Let’s start in the key of A minor.

If you compare the intervals of a major scale to the natural minor scale you’ll see that 3 notes have been flattened (move a semi tone lower). The 3rd note, the 6th note and the 7th note. This gives us a slightly revised interval structure.

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
ABCDEFG

Similar to the major scale, you can now fit chords to each note and interval. A minor key contains the same 7 chord types as the major scale, except they are re-stacked in a different order:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
ABCDEFG
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

Whatever root note you place this scale shape on is the key in which you’re now playing. You can then plug the notes from that scale into your interval list and work out what the chords for what that key are.

Minor Chord Progressions by Number

Now it’s time to apply this new knowledge to some chord progressions. 

Once again, it’s worth remembering that chord progressions can be listed out as a series of intervals rather than a set bunch of chords. 

Let’s imagine this in a practical situation. You’re on stage with a band and the singer says “Let’s play a I IV V in the key of A Minor”. With this new Natural Minor scale knowledge you’ve just acquired, you can now work out what notes sit on the notes of the scale that correspond to those intervals. You can also work out what chords types should be linked to each interval.

It is useful to spend time remembering this as a formula so that you can plug in note names at short notice.

Let’s look at a few typical minor key chord progressions as their interval structure:

  • I IV V – Used in Blues and Classic Rock
  • I V IV I – Great for soul. Used in the Bill Withers hit Ain’t No Sunshine
  • I IV I – Great for Reggae off beats
  • VI VII I – Ideal for classic rock ballads – Used in Guns N Roses song Don’t Cry

You can see chord progressions notated in Roman Numerals regardless of what key you play them in. It’s a very useful way of learning to understand chord progressions. 

It allows you to quickly work out the chords for a song, follow certain charts, or transpose to another minor key quickly.

Let’s take a look at these 4 chord progressions in 5 common minor keys. Once again, stick to straight quarter notes for these progressions just to illustrate the progression in action. Feel free to play these with whatever rhythmic changes you see fit.

E Minor Chord Progression

The E Minor scale starts from the open Low E string. It contains a combination of open and fretted notes due to its low position on the guitar.

The chords of E Minor are:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
EF#GABCD
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

E Minor – I IV V

A I IV V progression in E Minor uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are E Minor, A Minor and B Minor.

E Minor – I V IV I 

A I V IV I progression in E Minor uses the 1st, 5th, 4th and 1st chords. These are E Minor, B Minor, A Minor and E Minor.

E Minor – I IV I

A I IV I progression in E Minor uses the 1st,  4th and 1st chords. These are E Minor, A Minor and E Minor.

E Minor – VI VII I

A VI VII I progression in E Minor uses the 6th, 7th and 1st chords. These are C Major, D Major and E Minor.

G Minor Chord Progression

The G Minor scale is rooted on the 3rd fret of the Low E string which is a G note.

The chords of G Minor are:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
GAA#CDD#F
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

G Minor – I IV V

A I IV V progression in g Minor uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are G Minor, C Minor and D Minor.

G Minor – I V IV I 

A I V IV I progression in G Minor uses the 1st, 5th, 4th and 1st chords. These are G Minor, D Minor, C Minor and G Minor.

G Minor – I IV I

A I IV I progression in G Minor uses the 1st,  4th and 1st chords. These are G Minor, C Minor and G Minor.

G Minor – VI VII I

A VI VII I progression in G Minor uses the 6th, 7th and 1st chords. These are D# Major, F Major and G Minor.

C Minor Chord Progression

The C Minor scale is rooted on the 8th fret of the Low E string which is a C note.

The chords of C Minor are:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
CDD#FGG#A#
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

C Minor – I IV V

A I IV V progression in C Minor uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are C Minor, F Minor and G Minor.

C Minor – I V IV I 

A I V IV I progression in C Minor uses the 1st, 5th, 4th and 1st chords. These are C Minor, G Minor, F Minor and C Minor.

C Minor – I IV I

A I IV I progression in C Minor uses the 1st,  4th and 1st chords. These are C Minor, F Minor and C Minor.

C Minor – VI VII I

A VI VII I progression in C Minor uses the 6th, 7th and 1st chords. These are G# Major, A# Major and C Minor.

D Minor Chord Progression

The D Minor scale is rooted on the 10th fret of the Low E string which is a D note.

The chords of D Minor are:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
DEFGAA#C
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

D Minor – I IV V

A I IV V progression in D Minor uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are D Minor, G Minor and A Minor.

D Minor – I V IV I 

A I V IV I progression in D Minor uses the 1st, 5th, 4th and 1st chords. These are D Minor, A Minor, G Minor and D Minor.

D Minor – I IV I

A I IV I progression in D Minor uses the 1st,  4th and 1st chords. These are D Minor, G Minor and D Minor.

D Minor – VI VII I

A VI VII I progression in D Minor uses the 6th, 7th and 1st chords. These are A# Major, C Major and D Minor.

F Minor Chord Progression

The F Minor scale is rooted on the 1st fret of the Low E string which is a F note.

The chords of F Minor are:

IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
FGG#A#CC#D#
MinorDiminishedMajorMinorMinorMajorMajor

F Minor – I IV V

A I IV V progression in F Minor uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are F Minor, A# Minor and C Minor.

F Minor – I V IV I 

A I V IV I progression in F Minor uses the 1st, 5th, 4th and 1st chords. These are F Minor, C Minor, A# Minor and F Minor.

F Minor – I IV I

A I IV I progression in F Minor uses the 1st,  4th and 1st chords. These are F Minor, A# Minor and F Minor.

F Minor – VI VII I

A VI VII I progression in F Minor uses the 6th, 7th and 1st chords. These are C# Major, D# Major and F Minor.

How to Apply This in All Other Keys

All the theory and concepts in this lesson are transposable. This works the same way that we discussed in this lesson with the major progressions. The scale shape will set the key based on where you place it on the fretboard. From that root note, you can build your key chords up and then take your progression from that.

With this, you can now start to construct minor chord progressions in every key just by following the formula.

There are 12 minor keys that you can apply this logic to. Once again, using this fretboard diagram you can see where all the root notes along the Low E string are. You can place your scale on that note and then use the diagram to check what other notes fall within that shape. It’s useful to know the notes on the fretboard for this purpose. 

The notes in red are natural notes and the notes in blue are your sharp notes. 

If you are new to learning the fretboard, start with small segments. Start with one string and gradually expand your knowledge string by string.

There is also a pattern in minor keys for how the chord types are laid out:

Minor > Diminished > Major > Minor > Minor > Major > Major

This is always the order of the 7 chords of any minor key that you play in. The I chord will ALWAYS be a minor chord in a minor key.

If you can remember this chord order, you can use the look up table here, combined with the fretboard diagram to start to build scales in each minor key.

Here is a handy lookup table showing the notes for all 12 minor keys

 IIIbIIIIVVbVIbVII
A MinorABCDEFG
A# MinorA#CC#D#FF#G#
B MinorBC#DEF#GA
C MinorCDD#FGG#A#
C# MinorC#D#EF#G#AB
D MinorDEFGAA#C
D# MinorD#FF#G#A#BC#
E MinorEF#GABCD
F MinorFGG#A#CC#D#
F# MinorF#G#ABC#DE
G MinorGAA#CDD#F
G# MinorG#A#BC#D#EF#

You can also use the same table with the chord types listed as another quick reference guide.

 I - MinII - DimIII - MajIV - MinV - MinVI - MajVII - Maj
A MinorA MinB DimC MajD MinE Min F MajG Maj
A# MinorA# MinC DimC# MajD# MinF MinF# MajG# Maj
B MinorB MinC# DimD MajE MinF# MinG MajA Maj
C MinorC MinD DimD# MajF MinG MinG# MajA# Maj
C# MinorC# MinD# DimE MajF# MinG# MinA MajB Maj
D MinorD MinE DimF MajG MinA MinA# MajC Maj
D# MinorD# MinF DimF# MajG# MinA# MinB Maj C# Maj
E MinorE MinF# DimG MajA MinB MinC MajD Maj
F MinorF MinG DimG# MajA# MinC MinC# MajD# Maj
F# MinorF# MinG# DimA MajB MinC# MinD MajE Maj
G MinorG MinA DimA# MajC MinD MinD# MajF Maj
G# MinorG# MinA# DimB MajC# MinD# MinE MajF# Maj

You can use the progressions in this lesson as a great starting point for writing your own progressions in minor keys. Start off by using them as a template, then add some additional chords to them. Try different combinations and you will be writing some killer minor chord progressions in no time.

Summary
Article Name
How to Write a Minor Chord Progression
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