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HomeLJS PodcastLearn Jazz TheoryMinor Tonality and How to Build Minor Chord Progressions (feat. Dan Carillo)

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

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

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.


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


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


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

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Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. The second most common and the most modern way to play a IImin7(b5) is with the 6th mode of the MELODIC MINOR SCALE, why? because it has a mayor 9 interval. so it is a locrian with mayor nine, and a lot of great jazz musicians today like metheny and many others use it a lot. It was not even mentioned. So the common is locrian ok, but the second option is from melodic minor, not harmonic. (so the IImin7(b5) in minor is played AS VI from melodic minor.

  2. the VIImin7(b5) is an amazing chord in minor, not in jazz standards but in whatever else composition, specially in first inversion, also the VIIdim7 it just works (it is the sub of V7(b5). The phrase it never shows up and that's why I don't use it is quite limiting. Bach, Beethoven, Lizt, Satie, Richter, Danny Elfman, John Williams and millions of composer use them every time. So I agree that if the class is just about standards then ok the min7(b5) as Dominant Function never shows up, but it can be misleading for young students not to clarify that is a super important function in Tonal Harmony.

    • 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.

  3. 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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