Open New Doors to Your Playing by Adding Minor Chords
It's All Relative - Am and Em
This is part of the "VERY Basic Guitar subset of our "How To Folk" articles. In an effort to "jump start" your enjoyment of Folk music and your ability to join in, no matter what instrument you play, we are providing some very basic notes about guitar chords.
Note: - This is part of the Folkarama page, which is dedicated to helping beginners "get into" Folk music and join Folk communities as easily as possible, with simple articles and links to resources that provide hands-on instruction in traditional acoustic instruments.
Folkarama, in turn, contains many references to more extensive articles and resources in Paul Race's CreekDontRise.com site, as well as other related pages.
Previously on "Basic Guitar"Hopefully, you have already worked your way through these materials:
Caveat - In addition to showing you some chords, this page also tells you how they're most often used. Don't feel bad if parts of the content don't make sense the first or third time you read it. Music majors spend tens of thousands of dollars to learn this stuff, and many of them only learn it because they're getting graded on it. Working musicians, on the other hand, get exposed to these principles daily, and - even if they don't study it on purpose - the best of them "get it" eventually.
If you find yourself keeping up with guitar or any other instrument, come back in a few weeks or months and review this stuff again - it will make a lot more sense, and it will help you become a better musician.
Now for the content part of this chapter:
Relative MinorsNo, we're not talking about your under-18 neices and nephews. We're talking about chords that are closely related to chords you've learned so far. So closely related, in fact, thay they often substitute for them. Fortunately, the two we're presenting in this article are easy to play.
E Minor - G's Little Sister - This chord is often given as the answer to the question "What's the easiest chord to play on guitar?" And that answer is almost correct.
It's called G's "relative minor" because a song in E minor (Em) will generally have the same key signature (one sharp) as songs in the key of G. Medieval tunes like "Greensleeves" (or "What Child is This?") used to bounce cheerfully between Em and G. Ironically, many modern worship choruses (as of July, 2023) would do the same thing if they were in the key of G.
Because E is the sixth note of a G scale, E minor is often called the "minor sixth" of G. Just throwing that in because you're going to hear that term eventually if you stick with your music - even if you're playing some other instrument.
Try playing a standard G chord, then playing the Em chord shown at the right, then going back. You'll see there's a sense that you're going "down" to something a little bit sadder, then coming back up to where all is sunny and bright.
That said, in most songs that go from G to Em, you don't really feel like Em is a sadder chord than G, because it is used in passing between G and some other chord.
If you know John Denver's "Country Roads," try this:
Of course, you can also sing songs that are based in Em. For example, you now know all the chords necessary to sing Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence."
Em as Substitute for G - Em turns up In many Folk, Country, and Bluegrass arrangements as a substitute for G in the last line, right before you to the D7 that will resolve back to G at the end of the verse.
For example, if you're singing "Amazing Grace" in G, drop to Em on the word "blind," go to D7 on the word "now," and return to G on the word "see."
If you're doing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken in G," try going to Em on the syllable "-waiting." Then go back to G for "sky, Lord," to D7 on "in the," and finally back to G for the last "sky."
Such substitutions work in any key, of course, but it's so easy in the key of G that guitar players do it more often in the key of G than in any other key.
Em as a "minor second" - Sometimes you come across Em when you're playing in the key of D. In such cases, Em is called the "minor second," because E is the second note of the D scale. In most cases, it's a transition chord that is followed by A7,
A Minor - the C Chord's Little Sister - A minor (usually shown as Am) is the other easy-to-play minor chord. A is the sixth note of the C scale, so when you're playing in the key of C, Am is called the "minor sixth" chord, just as Em is the "minor sixth" of G.
A minor can also substitute for C in the same way that Em substitutes for G.
Sometimes you'll come across an Am chord in a song in G. In that case, it's called a "minor 2nd," because A is the second note of the G scale. When it's used this way, it's usually a transition chord that is followed by D7.
Minor Seventh Chords - One important variation of these chords is also worth noting - the "minor seventh" version.
These are minor chords with a note added. On guitar, you actually pick up a finger to play the chord.
In case you wondered, I have finally shown you the easiest chord to play on guitar - this version of Em7.
The notes you added by removing a finger are:
Best Uses of Minor Seventh Chords - Adding the seventh (a note that doesn't belong in Em or Am) dilutes the chord in a sense; it makes the chord sound softer, in a way. When minor chords are being used as transition chords, the added seventh seems to make the transition even smoother.
That said, they don't always substitute. For example, if going "down" to an Em is important in the song, as it is in, say, "Country Roads," going down to an Em7 will be less effective.
B Minor Seventh, the D-chord's Little Sister (Sort Of) - One more chord is worth mentioning in this context, the "relative minor" of the D chord. Unfortunately, Bm is a little more complicated than Em or Am. So at this point, we will simply show you the B minor seventh chord (Bm7), which you can use until you get Bm proper down pat.
Other Relative Minors Sometimes a minor chord is a "minor third," meaning that it's based on the third note of the key the song is based in.
A minor third is often the "smoothest" transitional chord, leading to other transitional chords. For example, a song in G might go from G to Bm, to Em, to Am to D7.
Or a song in C might go from C to Em7 to Am7, to Dm7 (which we haven't shown you yet) to G7.
In fact, C to Em is a very popular transition among Folk-style guitarists.
Here's a little chart that shows how the minor chords we've shown you relate to various song keys we've discussed so far. Again, if this stuff doesn't make any sense at this point, let it go. You can always come back later and re-read it.
Additional resources we have published include:
ConclusionAlthough there are many song in minor keys, minor and minor seventh chords add richness and variety to many songs that are based in major keys as well.
You'll actually see more uses as you go on, but the ones we've describe so far are the most common.
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