Music Theory Part 6 – The Minor Key Chord Formation

Welcome to part 6 in Bruce Music‘s blog series on music theory.  As always, if there’s anything here you don’t understand, check back through parts 1-5, as you can guarantee it’ll be covered there.

This part is on The Minor Key, and chord formation from the minor key.  The below follows on very directly (and refers a lot to) from part 5 : The Major Key and chord formationso make sure you get to grips with that first.

So, as discussed in previous posts, the minor scale formula is :  T  S  T  T  S  T  T
This is the same formula as if you started from the 6th step of the major scale. (This links into the concept of Relative Major/Minors).  Chord formation works in exactly the same way as a Major Key, ie.  root, miss one, third, miss one, fifth.

So the bottom line is, given that the minor scale is the same formula as the major scale from the 6th note, we can assert that the formula of chord types in a major key is the same as the major scale from the 6th chord.  To clarify what this means, let’s look at it in detail.

Major Key Chords – Imaj   IImin   IIImin   IVmaj   Vmaj   VImin   VIIdim

(The VImin is highlighted as this is where we start our minor key formula from.  Thus it is as below)

Minor key chords – Imin   IIdim   IIImaj   IVmin   Vmin   VImaj   VIImaj

Again, this formula is all-encompassing, ie.  take a minor scale, the chord built from the first note is minor, from the second is diminished, from the third is major and so on, without fail, exactly replicating the major scale from note 6.

You should learn and know these two formulas, but also understand their relationship to each other to support the knowledge.


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Music Theory Part 5 – Chord Formation And The Major Key

Welcome to Part 5 in our educational music theory series.  This post will cover forming chords from the Major scale.  If you’re new to the Major scale, check out part 2.  We’ll be looking at basic chords, made of 3 notes.  These are called triads. The 3 notes are:

  • “Root” – Gives the chord its letter name, ie. a C Major chord’s root note is C.
  • “Third” – Determines if the chord is major or minor.  2 tones away from the root = major third, major chord.  3 semitones (ie. a tone and a half) away from root =  minor third, minor chord.
  • “Fifth” – Solidifies the chord.  Typically 7 semitones, or 3 and a half tones away from the root.  Can be sharpened or flattened to create different types of chord, more on this later.

In practice, finding the 3 notes required to form a chord is very simple.  From your root note, skip the next, the next is your third, skip the next, and the next is your fifth.  So let’s do this now with the C Major Scale.

        I       II       III        IV        V       VI       VII
       C      D       E         F         G       A        B

  • So, with C as our root note, we skip the D, to find E as our third (2 tones away from C so thus a Major third)  then skip the F to find our fifth, G.  And there we have a C major chord.  C, E, G
  • Now with D as our root, we skip the E, to find F as our third (3 semitones away from D so thus a minor third) then skip the G to find our fifth, A.  So there we have a D minor chord.  D, F, A

We can continue this process for every note in the scale, and finish up with each scale step now representing a chord as well as a note.  This is essentially what a “key” is.  A key is a group of chords that ‘belong together’


  • The C Major scale contains the notes C, D, E…….etc.
  • The key of C Major contains the chords C Major, D minor, E minor…….etc.

So the resulting chords, the chords in the key of C Major, are –

I               II              III             IV              V             VI              VII
Cmajor     Dminor     Eminor     Fmajor     Gmajor    Aminor    Bdiminished

We’ll cover “diminished” chords in more detail at a later date, for now just be aware that they’re minor chords, with a flattened fifth or “b5” ie. the fifth is a semitone lower than it would be in a normal minor chord.

The main lesson to take from this, is just like the Major Scale was formula-based, the Major Key and its chords are too.
So in ANY Major key, the chord based on scale step 1 is Major,  step 2 minor, step 3 minor, and so on as above.  Thus the formula is as follows : 

IMaj     IImin     IIImin      IVMaj      VMaj     VImin     VIIdim

You should practice applying this formula to other Major scales to create Major keys, and make sure you fully understand it.

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Rocksmith – Why Do You Still Need A Real Guitar Teacher?

Rocksmith and Guitar Hero.  Both great fun, both help with your development as a guitarist (to differing extents)!  So why do you still need a real Guitar teacher, giving you real lessons in person?

Well, some aspects of Guitar-based computer games are bang on the money.  But others are about as close to real-life playing and performing as FIFA ’14 is to actually playing in a World Cup final.  Ultimately you’re limited by what has been pre-programmed into the system, and you’re developing within systems of Artificial Intelligence, not real life, with feedback from a real person.

Passing the ball to a team-mate on FIFA may well be very simple, but what button do you press when you’re walking down the tunnel at half-time and want to pick up the football and bounce it alongside you like a basketball?

I don’t discourage at all the use of computer games, it’s great that something like Rocksmith has come along, a Guitar game based more on skill and reality than Guitar Hero (which it has to be said is also brilliant fun!)  But ultimately it works on frequencies sent down wires.  It can’t “see” you, or your posture, or how you hold your pick, or what pedals you’re using when.  Nor can it understand you as a personality, or stop you from trying to advance too soon, or resting on laurels.  It can’t spot bad habits, or tailor anything to you.  Nor can it really pass on any genuine wisdom, it can only test you on its own pre-determined means of all-purpose technique.  Thus the length of time it keeps you engaged is probably about the same as any other computer game.