In this guitar lesson we are going to learn how minor guitar chords are made. First we will need to review how a major chord, or triad, is made. Once we have the major chord built, all we have to do is change one note to turn it in to a minor chord. If you are not familiar with intervals, you should go check out some of the other ear training and theory lessons. Try not to be frustrated if you don’t understand everything presented here the first time through. It is a lot of information.
For our example we will be using the key of E major. The notes in the key of E major are E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#. Major chords are built using a major 3rd for the first interval and a minor 3rd for the second interval. Let me explain further. The notes in an E major chord are E, G#, and B. The distance from an E to a G# is a major 3rd and the distance from a G# to a B is a minor third. This fits the formula for a major triad. If you do not know what a major or minor 3rd is or what the notes in an E major chord are, don’t worry we will cover that in other lessons.
Now that you have an idea of what intervals are in a major triad let’s lower one note to change a major triad into a minor one. Triads are made of 3 notes, the root, 3rd and 5th. In our example, E is the root, G# is the 3rd, and B is the 5th. To make this major triad minor, we just need to lower the third one half step, or one fret. If you lower the G# to a G natural you will have a minor triad. The notes in our E minor triad are E, G, and B.
Minor triads are built using a minor 3rd for the first interval and a major 3rd for the second interval. Take a look at the major triad again; it has a major 3rd for the first interval and a minor 3rd for the second interval. When you lower the third of a chord the major 3rd and minor 3rd trade places. Here are two graphics that show the differences in the way thirds are stacked in order to make an E major and E minor chords.
Time to put our new knowledge in to practice. Put your 4th finger on the 7th fret of the 5th string. This is an E note. Now play a G# note with your 3rd finger on the 6th fret of the 4th string and a B note with your 1st finger on the 4th fret of the 3rd string. This is an E major triad. Make this major triad in to a minor one by lowering the G# a half step to a G. Instead of playing the 6th fret on the 4th string with your 3rd finger, play the 5th fret of the 4th string with your 2nd finger. This is an E minor triad.
Play a regular open E minor chord. The notes in any regular E minor chord are all E’s G’s and B’s. With that in mind, look on the fretboard and try to find all of the E’s G’s and B’s that you can. Try to start coming up with your own E minor chord shapes.