Knowing how to build minor chords on piano is an
essential element of composition that any pianist should know. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to do! Read this
article closely, and you should have things figured out in no time.
Here’s the simplest way to create a minor chord (it will help if you have a piano or keyboard close at hand
while you read this explanation):
First off, select the note that you want to the minor chord to be in, or your root note. For example, if you
want to play an E minor, the root note will be E.
Now count three semitones up. That’s three steps forward, including the black keys. This is the minor third. In
an E minor chord, the third will be a G.
From the minor third, count up four more semitones. This is a perfect fifth from your root note. If you’re
playing an E minor, the perfect fifth will be a B.
Note that if you play only the root note and the fifth, you aren’t playing a minor chord. It’s the minor third
that gives the chord that extra layer of tension that makes it minor. As an example, move the minor third up one
step and play the root and perfect fifth along with that. You’re now playing a major chord! That small shift is all
that separates a minor and major.
Another way to explain minor chords on piano is to say that a minor third with a major third on top makes a
Now, you don’t have to play your chords all clumped together like this. Instead, you can separate the notes out
over the keyboard and give yourself a much more interesting sound. Try a few of the following:
Play an E minor chord at explained above. Then move the root E note up an octave, so
you’re playing the notes in the order G, B then E. This is called the first inversion of E minor. For more
information, read our article on piano chord inversions.
Now move the G up an octave so that you’re playing in the order B, E and G. This is the second inversion. See if
you can tell differences in the way these three inversions sound, despite the fact that you’re only ever playing
the same three notes. Move the B up an octave, and you’re back at the root chord.
Okay, now that we’ve covered inversions, let’s try changing around the bass notes. These are sometimes called
Play the root E minor chord: E, G, B around the middle of your piano with your right hand. Now with your left,
play an E at the lower end of the piano. You can hear how this extra bass note makes things sound firmer, can’t
Now play a G as a bass note instead. How does this change the sound? Try a B as well and see what effect that
has. How about if you play two bass notes?
As you can see, there is plenty of experimentation to be done. Try the above exercises in a range of different
keys and inversions, and you should find a number of ways to make minor chords more interesting.
From this article, you should be able to see how minor chords on piano can be used to create great sounds. Now
stop reading, and start playing!
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