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Minor Chords in the Major Scale


Question: Hey, good day to you. I’m a bit confused when it comes to chords/chord progressions. The thing is if I’m in a scale, let’s say G major, I would play the chords (triads) G, C and D major since the notes that make up the chords are in the scale. But can I also play minor chords in a major scale and major chords in a minor scale?

If I can play minor chords in the G major scale in a progression would the minor chords Am, Bm and Em be the appropriate chords in the G major scale? I had to ask because I saw a video on YouTube where there was a mixture of major and minor chords in a progression and I’m not sure if major and minor chords should be mixed.

Please clarify; thanks for your time.

– J. B.

Albert’s reply: It is absolutely desirable to play chords of the opposite mode within a given key. Minor triads occur in every major scale, and major triads occur within every minor scale.

The following diagram, using G major as an example, shows the results of building a triad on each of the scale degrees of a major scale:

Major triads are indicated by capital letters and minor by lowercase. The little circle or degree sign (°) next to scale degree 7 indicates that the triad is diminished rather than minor or major.

Thus, in the major mode, a triad built on scale degree 1 (called the tonic) is major, on scale degree 2 (supertonic) minor, scale degree 3 (mediant) minor, scale degree 4 (subdominant) major, scale degree 5 (dominant) major, scale degree 6 (submediant) minor, and scale degree 7 (leading tone) diminished.

The most common chords in the major mode, the tonic, subdominant and dominant triads (or dominant seventh if an extra third is added), also happen to be in the major mode. This fact should not stop you from incorporating other chords – including those not within the scale – into your improvisations and compositions.

Most of these chords are reversed in the minor mode:

In a minor scale, a triad built on scale degree 1 is minor, on scale degree 2 diminished, scale degree 3 major, scale degree 4 minor, scale degree 5 minor, scale degree 6 major, and scale degree 7 major.

Several chords change accordingly if scale degree 7 is raised to the leading tone, one half step below the tonic. This occurs in the harmonic minor scale, although it is important to point out that scale degree 7 is typically only raised for the chords on scale degrees 5 (especially to form the dominant or dominant seventh) and 7 (creating a diminished leading tone triad, often used as a dominant substitute):

In the end, composers are free to do as they wish. It’s essential to study the laws of harmony, though ultimately your ears should be your guide.

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