LJS 114: Minor Tonality and How to Build Minor Chord Progressions (feat. Dan Carillo)

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Welcome to episode 114 of the LJS Podcast where today we have on special guest Dan Carillo to talk about understanding minor tonality and building minor chord progressions. Minor tonality can be complicated because there are three minor scales at play. Dan gives a thorough explanation and unlocks this confusing topic. Listen in!

Listen to episode 114

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Some of the questions I get from my audience time and time again have to do with minor chord progressions and how they work.

Major diatonic harmony is much easier to understand because you can simply harmonize a major scale with 7th chords or triads, and come up with a simple answer of what chords are in the harmonic series.

But minor tonality becomes complicated because there are three different minor scales at play: the natural, harmonic and melodic minor.

When you harmonize those minor scales separately, you will notice that the qualities of each chord are not always the same for each scale degree.

So which chord should you use for the given scale degrees? Is it a minor 7 for the V chord, or a dominant 7? Is it a diminished 7 for the VII chord or is it a dominant 7?

In this episode, guitarist, professor, and composer Dan Carillo unlocks this and gives us the answers. In fact, he leaves no stone left unturned.

Here’s some of what we talked about today:

1. Why minor tonality is so hard to understand.

2. The problem with understanding minor chord progressions with scales.

3. The importance of the V-I.

4. The common sets of chord choices in a minor key.

5. The alternate sets of chord choices in a minor key.

6. Some of Dan’s cool projects coming up.

Notes

Dan talks about two sets of chord options for minor keys, the common and the alternate. Here are the two sets spelled out.

Common:

Here is the common set notated in the key of A minor.

i chord: minor(major 7)- from the melodic minor

ii chord: half diminished- from the natural or harmonic minor

iii chord: major 7- from the natural minor

iv chord: minor 7- from the natural or harmonic minor

V chord: dominant 7- from the harmonic or melodic minor

VI chord: major 7- from the natural or harmonic minor

VII chord: dominant 7- from the natural minor

Alternate

Here is the alternate set notated in the key of A minor.

i chord: minor 7- from the natural minor

ii chord: minor 7- from the melodic or harmonic minor

III chord: major 7(#5)- from the harmonic and melodic minor

IV chord: dominant 7- from the melodic minor

V chord: minor 7- from the natural minor

vi chord: half diminished- from the melodic minor

vii chord: diminished 7- from the harmonic minor

Important Links

How to Harmonize a Major Scale with 7th Chords

How to Harmonize Minor Scales with 7th Chords

30 Days to Better Jazz Playing

3 COMMENTS

  1. Fantastic overview. Just one question: why not include dorian mode as one of the minor scales that is covered?

    • Hey Bill, glad you enjoyed it! Keep in mind the Dorian mode is one of the modes of the major scale. When talking about minor tonality the Dorian mode isn't included an option for harmonization. The natural, harmonic, and melodic minor cover all of the bases.

  2. This was a phenomenal episode! Scales can trap me into such a narrow view of things and this, once again, reminded me to let my ears lead my playing. Definitely get Dan back on soon.

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