Chord Progressions and How They Work in the Minor Scale

So what are those music nerds talking about with their roman numerals? What the heck does iii IV VI even mean?

After getting tired of asking myself those same questions, I taught myself theory. Sure at first it seemed a bit like math or kinda weird and the punk rocker in mean wanted to smash someone in the head with my guitar, but I got through it and learned. Hopefully this article will have it make sense in my typical bonehead straightforward style.

Every piece of music is in a key. For example a lot of hard rock music is in the key of E, A and D minor. So if a song is in the key of lets say A minor, there are 7 basic chords that make up that scale. An A, B, C, D, E, F and G chord. Since we are in A minor, the first chord or (I) is A minor. That’s the root chord of the scale we are in.

Next is the B chord or (ii). Technically speaking, that chord should be B diminished, but if you don’t know diminished chords, just play B minor.

Then comes the C chord or (iii). Here we have a C major chord. That big fat cowboy C major chord.

Next is a D chord or (IV). Here we have a D minor chord. The saddest of all the chords….

Then we have an E chord or (V). Here we have an E minor chord.

Now we move on to an F chord or (VI). Here we have an F major chord. Almost done……stay with me.

Last but not least is a G chord or (VII). Here we have a G major chord. Ok, did you make it through that?

In summary we have learned the following:

Am  Bm   C     Dm  Em   F       G
(1)   (II) (III) (IV) (V) (VI) (VII)

Keeping this awesome new info in mind, let’s say that I’m working on a song and I write a progression of Am C Dm Em that is the same thing as saying I III IV V or 1 3 4 5. Often times in music schools of higher learning, they assume that you will learn all of the keys and their subsequent chords. In these settings you will get a lead sheet where the key is written on the staff and the roman numerals for chord work. Confusing? Yes very, but it forces you to learn.

So how can this benefit you? Well, you could walk around asking strangers “whats the 2 chord in A minor?” This method doesn’t usually go over well. Trust me, I know. The way it CAN help is by teaching you how to begin seeing patterns and common rules that are in place in all minor keys. Here are a few that I try to remember:

The first, fourth and fifth chords are always minor.

The third, sixth and seventh chords are always major.

There is ALWAYS a half step difference between the 2nd and 3rd chords and the 5th and 6th chords, ALWAYS.

Ok, cool so lets say I move to E minor (E F# G A B C D) and follow the rules above I will know these certainties.

E, A and B are minor chords (1, 4 and 5)

G, C and D are major chords (3, 6, 7)

Is there a half step difference between F# and G? Yes there is.

Is there a half step difference between B and C? Yes there is.

So please try reading this post a couple times and let it’s information sink it. Believe me, punk rocker or not, you will benefit from knowing it! Thanks for reading.

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