Minor Key Chord Progressions

Table of Contents

Minor key chord progressions are any chord progressions that come from the minor scale.

In this article, we’ll look at some common minor chord progressions and also look at a lot of examples on how to play these chord progressions on guitar in the keys of A minor, C minor, D minor and E minor (these keys are quite common!).

Let’s quickly recap the chords in the natural minor key:

Scale Degree12b345b6b7
Chordiii˚bIIIivvbVIbVII

Common Minor Chord Progressions

Here are some chord progression, all in minor key, that are commonly seen in music:

Progression 1: i – iv – v – i

Progression 2: i – ii˚ – v – i

Progression 3: i – bVI – bIII – bVII

Progression 4: i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i

Progression 5: i – bVII – bVI – V7

Notes on Progressions

Please be aware that “Progression 1”, “Progression 2” are not official or recognised names for these progressions – we’re just labelling them up to make them easier to refer to.

These progressions are sometimes referred to by their numerals, e.g. the “i – iv – v – i”, would commonly be referred to as a “1 4 5 1” (one, four, five, one) progression.

Progression 1 is a very typical chord progression that you have heard a million times before in nearly every pop song that’s been written.

Progression 5 is sometimes referred to as an Andalusian Cadence.

v and V (or V7) in Minor Keys

When playing in a minor key, we can use chords not just from the natural minor, but also from the harmonic minor and melodic minor scales.

In Progression 5, you can see that w have a V7 chord. This V7 chord comes from the harmonic minor scale.

In general, when playing in a minor key, we can use the v or V7. The v will sound more “natural”, and the V7, especially when moving to i (e.g. V7 – i) will have a very neoclassical sound to it.

Having said that, V-i can also be used without a neoclassical sound, with pop songs containing that chord progression, Voulez-Vous by Abba being one example.

There is a bit of music theory behind how all this works, and why some composers choose v or V7 in different circumstances, but you can just choose whichever you like the sound of best – it’s an option to be aware of.

Next, let’s look at some examples of how we can play these chord progressions on guitar.

A Minor Chord Progressions

Let’s quickly recap what the chords are in the key of A minor:

iii˚bIIIivvbVIbVII
AmCDmEmFG

Before you scroll any further, have a go at working out the above chord progressions in the key of Am for yourself.

Here is what the above chord progressions will look like in the key of Am:

Progression 1

iivvi
AmDmEmAm

Progression 2

iiiø7vi
AmEmAm

Progression 3

ibVIbIIIbVII
AmFCG

Progression 4

ibVIIbVIbVIIi
AmGFGAm

Progression 5

ibVIIbVIV7
AmBFE7

How to Work Out Chord Progressions

As a quick note, I often find that when I ask a student to work out a chord progression similar to the above, or any music theory concept, they try and hold everything in their heads.

A much better way to do this is to write out everything you need on a piece of paper – I find paper is better than typing these out on a notepad file.

If you try and do this in your head, you are trying to hold too many pieces of information together at the same time, and you are probably going to get mixed up and make mistakes.

If you write out the key, chords from the key, then the chord progressions on paper as you go; it will be easy to work this out without making mistakes.

When it comes to work out music theory, a paper and pencil is your friend – use it!

I still do this, constantly. My day planner is covered in musical scribble where I’ve been working out theory ideas as I compose.

To show I practice what I preach: my dayplanner covered in musical scribble.

Next, let’s look at some different ways we can play these chord progressions on guitar:

A minor Chord Progressions on Guitar

Progression 1: i – iv – v – i

A minor chord progression - Am Dm Em Am using open chord shapes on guitar
i – iv – v -i in A minor gives the chords Am – Dm – Em – Am.

Progression 2: i – iiø – v – i

A minor chord progression for guitar using the chords Am - Bø - Em - Am as barre chords
i – iiø – v – i in Am gives the chords Am – Bø – Em – Am.

Progression 3: i – bVI – bIII – bVII

Chord progression in the key of A minor written for guitar with the chords Am - F - C - G being played as barre chords.
i – bVI – bIII – bVII in Am gives the chords Am – F – C – G.

Progression 4: i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i

Chord progression written for guitar with the chords Am - G - F - G - Am played using barre chords.
i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i in Am gives the chords Am – G – F – G – Am.

Progression 5: i – bVII – bVI – V7

Chord progression in A minor written for guitar with the chords Am G F E7.
i – bVII – bVI – V7 in Am gives the chords Am – G – F – E7.

C Minor Chord Progressions

Next, let’s look at these chord progressions in the key of C minor.

Here are the chords in the key of C minor:

iii˚bIIIivvbVIbVII
CmEbFmGmAbBb

Here are what our chord progressions from earlier will look like in the key of Cm:

Progression 1

iivvi
CmFmGmCm

Progression 2

iiiø7vi
CmDø7GmCm

Progression 3

ibVI6bIII6/4bVII
CmAb/CEb/BbBb

Progression 4

ibVIIbVIbVIIi
CmBbAbBbCm

Progression 5

ibVIIbVI6V6/5
CmBbAb/CG7/B

C Minor Chord Progressions on Guitar

Here are some ways we can play these progressions on guitar.

Like we did with the A minor chord progressions, each chord it notated with a single strum for simplicity, however, you can add any strumming pattern you like to the chord progressions.

Or picking pattern / hybrid strumming picking pattern – experiment and have fun with it!

Here we go:

Progression 1: i – iv – v – i

Cm chord progression Cm Fm Gm Cm using barre chords on guitar.
i – iv – v – i in C minor gives us the chords Cm – Fm – Gm – Cm

Progression 2: i – iiø7 – v – i

Chord progression in Cm for guitar using barre chords. We're playing the chords Cm - Dø - Gm - Cm
i – iiø7 – v – i in C minor gives us the chords Cm – Dø7 – Gm – Cm

Progression 3: i – bVI6 – bIII6/4 – bVII

Chord progression in Cm using the chords Cm - Ab/C - Eb/Bb - Bb, written for guitar using chords on strings 5-2.
i – bVI6 – bIII6/4 – bVII in C minor gives us the chords Cm – Ab/C – Eb/Bb – Bb

Progression 4: i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i

Chord progression in the key of C minor using the chords Cm - Bb - Ab - Bb - Cm, written using root 6 barre chords for guitar.
i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i in C minor gives the chords Cm – Bb – Ab – Bb – Cm

Progression 5: i – bVII – bVI6 – V6/5

C minor chord progressing using the chords Cm Bb Ab/C G7/B, written for guitar using chords on string 5-2.
i – bVII – bVI6 – V6/5 in C minor gives us the chords Cm – Bb – Ab/C – G7/B

D Minor Chord Progressions

Next up, we’ll look at these same chord progressions, but in the key of D minor.

As before, we’ll look at what the chords are and then look at some ways we can play these chords on guitar.

But before we do that, let’s quickly revise the chords in the key of D minor:

iii˚bIIIivvbVIbVII
DmFGmAmBbC

And here are the chord progressions we’ve been studying, in the key of D minor:

Progression 1

iivvi
DmGmAmDm

Progression 2

iii˚vi
DmAmDm

Progression 3

ibVI6bIII6/4bVII
DmBb/DF/CC

Progression 4

ibVIIbVIbVII6/4i
DmCBbC/GDm

Progression 5

ibVIIbVI6V6/5
DmCBb/DA7/C#

D Minor Chord Progressions on Guitar

Here are some different ways that we can play these chord progressions on guitar.

As with the other keys we have looked at, feel free to use your own rhythms or picking patterns to play the chords:

Progression 1: i – iv – v – i

A chord progression in Dm, written for guitar using barre chords. It has the progression Dm - Gm - Am - Dm
i – iv – v – i in the key of D minor gives the chords Dm – Gm – Am – Dm

Progression 2: i – ii˚ – v – i

A chord progression in the key of D minor, written for guitar using barre chords. The progression is Dm - Edim - Am - Dm, mostly using barre chords.
i – ii˚ – v – i in the key of D minor gives us the chords Dm – Edim – Am – Dm

Progression 3: i – bVI – bIII6/4 – bVII

A chord progression written for guitar in the key of D minor, using the chords Dm - Bb/D - F/C - C
i – bVI – III6/4 – bVII in the key of D minor gives us the chords Dm – Bb/D – F/C – C

Progression 4: i – bVII – bVI – bVII6/4 – i

Chord progression for guitar in the key of D minor, using the chords Dm - C - Bb - C/G - Dm
i – bVII – bVI – bVII6/4 – i in D minor gives us the chords Dm – C – Bb – C/G – Dm

Progression 5: i – bVII – bVI6 – V6/5

Chord progression in the key of D minor, written for guitar using chords on strings 5-2. The chord progression is Dm - C - Bb/D - A7/C#.
i – bVII – bVI6 – V6/5 in the key of D minor gives us the chords Dm – C – Bb/D – A7/C#

E Minor Chord Progressions

The last key that we are going to look at today is E minor.

Here are the chords in the key of E minor:

iii˚bIIIivvbVIbVII
EmF#˚GAmBmCD

and here are the chord progressions that we have been looking at, now in the key of E minor:

Progression 1

iivvi
EmAmBmEm

Progression 2

iiiø7vi
EmF#ø7BmEm

Progression 3

ibVI6bIII6/4bVII
EmC/EG/DD

Progression 4

ibVIIbVIbVIIi
EmDCDEm

Progression 5

ibVIIbVI6V7
EmDC/EB7

E minor Chord Progressions on Guitar

Finally, let’s look at how to play the above chord progressions on guitar, using a variety of chord shapes:

Progression 1: i – iv – v – i

A chord progression in the key of E minor being played using open chord on guitar. It has the chords Em - Am - Bm - Em
i – iv – v – i in the key of E minor gives us the chords Em – Am – Bm – Em

Progression 2: i – iiø7 – v – i

Chord progression for guitar in the key of Em, using barre chords. The chords being played are Em - F#ø7 - Bm - Em
i – iiø7 – v – i in Em gives us the chords Em – F#ø7 – Bm – Em

Progression 3: i – bVI6 – bIII6/4 – bVII

A chord progression in the key of Em, being played on guitar using chords that use 4 strings. The chords are Em - C/E - G/B - D
i – bVI6 – bIII6/4 – bVII in Em gives us the chords Em – C/E – G/B – D

Progression 4: i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i

A chord progression in the key of Eminor, using the chords Em - D - C - D - Em. The chords are being played on guitar using open chords.
i – bVII – bVI – bVII – i in Em gives us the chords Em – D – C – D – Em

Progression 5: i – bVII – bVI6 – V7

E minor chord progression being played on guitar. We are using the chords Em - D - C/E - B7
i – bVII – bVI6 – V7 in Em gives us the chords Em – D – C/E – B7

Writing Minor Scale Chord Progressions

We’ve looked at plenty of examples of minor scale chord progressions in a variety of keys, but how can you go about writing some chord progressions of your own?

Let’s quickly cover three levels of writing chord progressions:

Level 1: Do Something

Here is a fast way to start writing some chord progressions:

  1. Pick one of the above keys
  2. Choose 4 chords from that key
  3. Play them on guitar

And hey presto, you have a chord progression!

Level 2: Start with i

Next, let’s add a very simple idea: Start with the i chord.

In most of the music you listen to, whether it’s classical music, heavy metal, or something in-between, usually the first chord we hear is the i chord.

So let’s update our check list:

  1. Pick one of the above keys
  2. Start with the i chord
  3. Choose 3-4 other chords to follow the i chord

Easy 🙂

Level 3: Add a cadence

Finally, let’s look at “wrapping up” our chord progression with a cadence.

You can think of a cadence as a set of chords that creates a specific musical effect.

Cadences are used to close a phrase (a phrase is a specific structural element in music).

So let’s use the most basic cadence, a “V – i” to close our chord progression:

  1. Pick one of the above keys
  2. Start with the i chord
  3. Add 3-4 other chords from the key
  4. Have the chords V – i at the end of your progression

You should find that by having “V – i ” at the end of your chord progression, it sounds “finished”, “final” or “at rest”.

After the V – i, you don’t need to hear anything else.

There is a lot more we can look at with writing chord progressions, from common practice voice leading, to prolongation and sequential progressions, but these are quite big topics to cover another day.

Common practice voice leading alone can take over a year of study – so we can’t cover it in a blog post!

Conclusion

We’ve taken a pretty in depth look at the chords we can get from minor scales, and we’ve also looked at plenty of examples of chords from minor scales and some different ways we can play these chord progressions on guitar.

This is by no means a comprehensive study of the topic – think of this as an introduction.

We can look at other seven note scales, such as these exotic metal scales, and create chords from those scales to create chord progressions from.

Experiment with the chord progressions we looked at today, grab your guitar and have some fun exploring your creativity!

If you have any thoughts or questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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