Music Theory For Bass – Chords In A Minor Key

2017-10-26T15:45:37+00:00January 25th, 2014|Categories: Music Theory For Bass Guitar|8 Comments

This lesson follows on from the Chords In The Major Key lesson by demonstrating the chords of the minor key built from both the Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scales.

Remember to LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, SHARE THE POST (just click on your preferred social platform below) and then …

Sign Up To Talkingbass For FREE!

Join over 40,000 members and R.A.I.S.E your Bass Game Today!

FREE Ebook Downloads, Practice Tracks, Drum Tracks and MUCH MORE!

Join Now!!


  1. Bjorn July 29, 2014 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    As soon as I heard you play the Cm – Ebaug – Fm – G progression, I came to think of the song “Boy Who Cried Wolf” by Paul Weller’s Style Council. I hadn’t heard it for ages, but that distinctive sound of the augmented chord immediately stood out.

    So I had a listen to that song, and after a while I had the verse analyzed as a minor I-III-IV-V, just as above, but in the key of E minor. So the chords are Em – Gaug – Am – B.

    Now, on that song, there’s a really characteristic descending bass line, emphasizing the drop from E down to Eb. Something like this:

    | E B-D-E | Eb B-D-Eb | A E-G-A | B D-B-D-B-D-E |

    I noticed two things about this:

    First, in the fourth bar, the D is the MINOR third of the B, instead of the major. I guess this a typical “blues” device…

    Also, the second chord in the progression should be a Gaug, according to this analysis. But if I had transcribed this song, I would have assumed that it was an Eb of some kind (because of the emphasis on the Eb in the bass line). Furthermore, when I played around with the bass line, I noticed that I could use not only the Eb and the B but also a G as root note for that second bar. I guess this has to do with inversions…

    How ambiguous are these things? You mentioned that chord can be notated in different ways, either as slash chords or as extensions, and gave some examples. How does this tie in to the functional analysis of a chord progression? Depending on wether I chose to view the Eb, B, or G as the root of that second chord, I get either a I-VII-IV-V, or a I-V-IV-V, or a I-III-IV-V progression.

    • Mark July 30, 2014 at 8:20 am - Reply

      Well, you’ve naturally stumbled onto an aspect of augmented and diminished chords that plays a big part in later areas of harmony. The Augmented triad is made up of stacked major 3rds. All the same. In a Caug, We have C – E, E – G# and then another major 3rd would take us back to the root: G# – C.
      Whatever note we start on we always have the same intervallic stacking of that augmented chord so all the inversions look the same. This is unlike the major and minor triads that look completely different in inversion.

      So, Caug, Eaug and G#aug are all the same chord. Notice how Cmajor, E major and Gmajor are NOT the same chord (CEG, EG#B, GBD). This is simply a consequence of the exclusive stacking of major thirds in the augmented. Whatever way you look at the chord it will always have a maj3rd – maj3rd- maj3rd sequence.

      The Style Council chord you looked at had a D# in the bass which I would say makes it a D#aug rather than a Gaug/D#. Simply because the notes are the same. If it was a G major with a D in the bass, that would have to be specified because a D major or D minor would have different notes to a G major.

      The whole tone scale has the same symmetrical properties as the augmented chord as does the diminished triad, diminished7 chord and diminished scales. Olivier Messiaen refers to these scales as Modes Of Limited Transposition.

  2. Bjorn July 29, 2014 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    And another thing, when you talk about relative minor keys, you’re assuming a natural minor scale, right? So a chord progression in A minor would be identical to a C major progression, only starting a minor third down, right?

    So when people say: “This song is in B minor”, HOW DO I KNOW if it’s based on the natural, harmonic or melodic minor scale / progression?

    I guess I can figure it out by looking at what chords are actually used, and also if there are any accidentals in the melody…

    So if there are no accidentals at the beginning of the sheet, this would NOT, in itself, tell me that the song was in A minor (or C major). I would have to look at the actual notes in the melody and see if any of them had accidentals, right?

    By the way, if I conclude that the song IS based on the natural A minor scale, how do I now that it’s not in C major? I guess by just listening to the “feel” and “gravity” of the song, I guess…

    I get the feeling that most musicians I play with don’t really know about these different minor scales themselves, even though they may be quite advanced. Somehow it seems like it’s up to each player to figure out along the way which minor scale to use in each song. Or am I missing something?

    For me, the Dorian mode has always been a savior, because it avoids the major seven and the minor sixth, both of which can sound really out of place. Actually, until recently I actually thought I was playing THE minor scale… 😛

    • Mark July 30, 2014 at 8:46 am - Reply

      Traditionally, minor keys can be differentiated from a major key by the accidentals required to transform the natural minor to a harmonic or melodic minor. The Harmonic Minor is the standard minor scale for creating chords in the minor key hence the name ‘Harmonic’ minor. It gives rise to the all important Major and Dominant 7 chord at Chord V. So the key of A minor will have a G# and occasionally an F#. Both notes are obviously different from C major.

      The Natural Minor is not really a standard basis for a key because of the Minor chord at Chord V. BUT, it can be done and is just more like composing in an Aeolian Mode (see Modes Of The Major Key lesson). When you compose in a mode you have to use other elements beyond basic accidentals to give a sense of tonal gravity and a feeling of resolution. This can be something as simple as resting on the root chord at the end of a melodic phrase etc. etc.
      As I said, when you talk of Natural Minor, Dorian, Phrygian or any other Minor-type scale you aren’t really talking about minor keys in the traditional sense. It’s more Modal composition/performance.

  3. Bjorn July 30, 2014 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Thanks a LOT, Mark! Things are much clearer now. I look forward to watching more of your lessons today, and I am sure everything I have ever wondered about is in there! Your site is such a fantastic resource!

  4. Martin December 5, 2014 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Great lesson Mark. I was never quite sure about these scales and how they work. You have explained things clearly and i am looking forward to practicing them over the weekend. Hopefully all will sink in. Thanks

  5. Derek Foster March 6, 2016 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    I’ve been going through your music theory lessons and they have all been fantastic! I’ve been playing bass for about a year and a half and always thought this stuff was intimidating. Your lessons make the material very accessible so thank you so much.

    A small error: the tab for the melodic minor in the PDF is the same as that of the harmonic minor.

  6. Sean Green August 8, 2018 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Mark,

    1) Can you generate chords from the natural minor scale?

    2) I’m a bit confused … Say a piece is in C minor, this means B’s and E’s are Flat.
    But using the harmonic minor to make 7th chords, Chord I is CmMaj7. This contains a b natural instead of the B flat, clashing with the key. Won’t using that chord for a bass line clash with the rest of the band?

    3) One of my band’s songs is in F# minor, so F C and G are sharp. The chord sequence (root notes) go III IV I, so A B F#. So I was trying to see what chords I could use in this minor key for bass lines. Using the harmonic minor scale to make the chords, for Chord III, I get A augmented or A maj7#5. This contains a F natural instead of the F# and sounds wrong.
    Does this mean the song is actually in A major? does the chord progression go I II VI instead? therefore using the chords of the A major scale. The keyboard player says the piece has a minor feel but thinks it is based in F# natural minor (Aeolian Mode), because the song doesn’t start or end with a string A feel.

    I mean I know how to play a F# Aeolian Mode, but how can the whole song be based around a mode? Does he mean the chords should be generated from the F# Aeolian mode (natural minor) ? Can this be done?



Leave A Comment