Learning the A minor and E minor Chords

Minor chords are great for creating ambiance in your songwriting and guitar playing. When playing in major keys, the second, third and sixth position chords are minor chords. But you can also play songs in minor keys. It all depends on the mood you want to create in your playing.

For example, playing a I-IV-V song in the key of G major will consist of G, C, and D major, which is fine but can be a little boring and flavorless if that is all you stick to. Adding in the second position chord A minor (Am), third position chord B minor (Bm) or sixth position E minor (Em) – in the right places – will add dimension, flavor, tension and character to your music. The second, third, and sixth positions of all major keys are minor chords.

Lynard Skynard got away with sticking to the three major chords it in their original recording of Sweet Home Alabama in 1973 but.. they were a seven piece band (singer, three guitar players, drums, bass player and keyboard) of incredibly talented musicians plus they had a fantastic three-part (I believe) chorus of background singers helping out so adding minor chords to an already great song would have been redundant. The guitar fills and solos, as well as the keyboards are outstanding in this recording. For the rest of us mere mortals, we need variety in our arsenal of chords.

It is essential to learn minor chords as they are very prevalent in most forms of music. There is only a slight difference between a major and minor chord. In this article, we look at the A minor and E minor chords, and the difference between their major companions.

The A major chord consists of the A, C#, and E triad of notes (the first, third, and fifth position in the A major scale). Only the first five strings are strummed or plucked when playing the A minor. It is best to mute the top string (6th string) if at all possible. To mute the string, gently rest your strumming hand against it to deaden the sound.

To turn that A major chord into an Am, you simply “flatten” the third, which is what all minor chords share in common. This simply means that our triad now becomes A, C, and E – the third note has gone down by one semitone from the C# to C. This is what is meant by “flattening the third,” a phrase you will likely hear and read a few times in your musical studies. Only the first five strings are strummed or plucked when playing the A minor. It is best to mute the top string (6th string) if at all possible. To mute the string, gently rest your strumming hand against it to deaden the sound.

The same goes for the A minor scale. The third position goes from C# to C.

In the case of the E major chord, our triad is E, G#, and B. Notice how the following pattern looks exactly like the A minor pattern, only shifted by exactly one string up on the fretboard? All of the strings are strummed or plucked when playing the E major chord. The first, second, and sixth are left open.

To turn that E major chord into an Em, we again “flatten” the third. This simply means that our triad now becomes E, G, and B – the third note has gone down by one semitone from the G# to G. The G note, in the case of the E minor chord, is an open G, the third string left to ring open. All of the strings are strummed or plucked when playing the Em chord. The first, second, third, and sixth are left open.

The E minor scale has a G in the third position instead of a G#. Of course there are seven notes in both the major and minor scales mentioned above but for the purpose of this article, I stopped at the fifth position to keep things simpler and easier to understand for those of you who are earlier on in your guitar learning process.

A big thank you to http://www.canva.com, a site that allows me to draw the chord patterns above.

Reference for this article (only for verification purposes): “Incredible Scale Finder,” by the Hal Leonard Corporation, copyright 2001, http://www.halleonard.com

I also consulted http://www.wikipedia.org to verify a few facts about Lynard Skynard and their song, “Sweet Home Alabama.”

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