How to Find Primary Chords in Minor Keys

Primary Chords

Let’s look at how to find primary chords for minor keys. Primary chords can accompany most simple melodies in a particular key. Once you know how to find them, you can begin to accompany yourself on many songs!

How to Find Primary Chords for Minor Keys

Primary chords are built off the first, fourth and fifth notes of the matching minor scale. They are built using the notes of that scale.

Learn Piano Chords printable pdf chart

Learn Piano Chords Printable

Get started learning piano chords with this 36-page PDF. These charts will lay a great foundation for you at the piano, and will be referenced again and again!

Primary Chords for A Minor

Let’s find these chords for the key of A minor, using the A natural minor scale to build the chords. Here’s an A natural minor scale (learn how to build minor scales here):

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

We’ll build our first primary chord off the first note of the scale. So starting on A, we’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord.

When we do this, we get:

am chord piano

A – C – E

This is an A minor chord.

To build our next primary chord we’ll start with the fourth note of the scale. So starting on D, we’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord.

When we do this, we get:

dm chord piano

D – F – A

This is a D minor chord.

To build our last primary chord, we’ll start with the fifth note of the scale. Starting on E, we’ll build another “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord.

When we do, we get:

em chord piano

E – G – B

This is an E minor chord.

These are each minor chords. Anytime we build primary chords using a natural minor scale, they will all be minor chords.

So as a short-cut to finding primary chords for minor keys, you could just build minor chords off the first, fourth and fifth notes of any natural minor scale.

Primary Chords for A Minor Using the Harmonic Minor Scale

You may be thinking, “Since there are different types of minor scales, won’t that change the primary chords?” (Learn the different types of minor scales here.)

Good question! Let’s look at primary chords for harmonic minor scales.

We’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord off the first, fourth and fifth notes of the harmonic minor scale, using only the notes of the scale to build the chords.

The only difference is that one of our chords will be a major chord instead of a minor chord.

Let’s try this. Here’s an A harmonic minor scale:

a harmonic minor scale piano

A – B – C – D – E – F – G♯ – A

We’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord off the first note of the scale, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord.

When we do, we get an A minor chord:

am chord piano

A – C – E

Then we’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord off the fourth note of the scale, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord.

When we do, we get an D minor chord:

dm chord piano

D – F – A

But when we build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord off the fifth note of an A harmonic minor scale, using only the notes of the scale to build the chord, we get an E major chord:

e major chord piano

E – G♯ – B

The first two chords are minor, the third is major. So anytime we build primary chords using a harmonic minor scale, the first two will be minor, the third will be major.

So as a short-cut, to find the primary chords for a harmonic minor scale, you could just build minor chords off the first and fourth notes of the scale, and a major chord off the fifth note.

Conclusion

Now you know how to build primary chords in minor keys, and you can use these chords to accompany most simple melodies written in minor keys, which is lots of fun.

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2 Comments

  1. Daniel A Giammarco

    I really enjoy the way you break down music theory. The patterns revealed make it so easy to see music happening naturally. The trick, as you revealed, is not memorizing a bunch of notes in different keys or getting all tangled up in sharps and flats, but in the pattern which repeats itself over and over up and down the scale in every key!

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you so much, I’m so glad to hear that!

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