Natural minor also works over sequences
of chords in a minor
key. We might call these natural minor
chord progressions, as we can solo over them using the
minor key progression will be compatible with
natural minor, but the vast majority are, especially in popular music.
This lesson will do two things - help you understand where these
progressions come from followed by some powerful ear training
to help you determine when to use the natural
minor scale in your solos. You can skip the theory part
if you like, but this knowledge will transfer into other areas of music
theory, so at least give it a shot!
Theory - The Natural Minor Chord Scale
Natural minor has
its own "chord scale" based on its intervals. So you need to
scale's intervals before you can grasp this concept - W H W W H W W
building chords on each degree of the scale instead of playing single
notes, so each degree now marks the root of a new chord.
Each chord in
the scale is typically labelled using Roman numerals - lower case for
the minor chords (except ii
which we'll come to in a moment) and upper case for the major chords...
take note of the intervals between each chord. For example, there's a
whole step between the 7th and tonic chord. There's a whole step
between the 6th and 7th chords. A half step between the 5 and 6 chords
is known as the tonic chord.
You could call this "home" (albeit an unhappy one in minor keys!).
This is the chord that determines the key of the progression,
and therefore the root we use when playing the natural minor scale. For
if the tonic was D minor,
the key of the progression would also be D minor and therefore the
scale's root would need to be on D.
So, as each chord is built on a degree of the natural minor scale, we
should be able to use our knowledge of the scale's intervals to work
out, first the notes of the scale and therefore what each chord would
be in a given key. Let's stick with D minor
in this example...
Edim stands for E diminished. The circle next to the numeral also
indicates the chord is diminished. You can learn all about diminished
in their own lesson. Don't worry about it right now as we won't be
using it in this lesson because most
natural minor progressions don't use it.
From this scale, we can pick out different combinations of chords to
create a D natural minor chord progression. For example...
That's a very typical movement over which we could use the D natural
The scale also works over the Bb (B flat) and C major chords because
part of this D minor chord scale as shown earlier. To be more specific,
all three chords contain notes from the D natural minor scale.
It's important to hear these progressions as relative movements
can be used in any key.
If the tonic chord was Bm
instead of Dm, for example, how
would that change the other chords in the scale, based on its intervals?
So the main thing to understand here is that the Roman numerals
represent a chord progression drawn from the intervals of a parent
scale (such as natural minor).
When you hear someone say "1 4 5 in A minor" you'll know they mean the
1st, 4th and 5th chords from the A minor scale.
we understand where these progressions come from, it's time to train
our ear to recognising a natural minor progression when we hear it, so
we'll know when to use the scale.
Ear Training - Natural Minor Chord Progressions Charts
Below are some useful charts with audio showing you some common natural
progressions, around which countless songs, old and new, have been
written (whether intentionally or not!).
I've given examples in three of the most common minor
keys - A, E and C.
The idea is to train
your ear to recognise these movements when you hear them,
so you'll have a better idea of when to use the natural minor scale in
your soloing. You'll hear that "natural minor sound" dominate the music.
get in the right key, the root note
of the scale you're playing should match with the root of the tonic
chord (e.g. A minor = A,
E minor = E
Let's start with the strongest two-chord movements that imply natural
minor. Many popular minor key songs only use the two chords listed
When you hear two chords played like this, it's a signal that
natural minor (and of course minor pentatonic and its blues variations)
is a good scale choice. In fact, in most cases the vocals will also be
using this scale.
To fully internalise them, I recommend playing the scale along to the
tracks. And hey, it should be a more fun way to explore
scale than playing without accompaniment.
Click the chord links
within the table (right click and save to
download) to hear them.
Most minor key progressions start on the tonic, but sometimes you'll
hear them start on another chord in the scale. For example, the tonic
could appear at the end: VI / VII /
i or even in the middle: v
/ i / VI
However, what you're listening for are the intervals or relationships
between the chords that imply natural minor, no matter what order
they're in. The more you listen to and internalise the tracks above,
the more your ear will develop the ability to
identify that "natural minor sound" in the songs you hear and
For more on ear training, take a look at the free 10 day crash course
Ear Training. They will help you make that crucial connection between
hear and what you play.