The Aeolian mode or the natural minor scale as it’s called, is the backbone of many great songs and compositions. No matter the style of music. You will find beautiful minor chord progressions everywhere! But how do you write a minor chord progression?
The natural minor scale or Aeolian mode can be used for dramatic music, but also for bitter-sweet melancholic music. Your minor chord progressions and Aeolian melodies can be as smooth and dreamy as the clouds, but they can also be as dark as the night. So what is the Aeolian mode and how do you create great minor chord progressions and start writing music with it?
Video Tutorial: Make Aeolian mode / minor chord progressions and Melodies
If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on the Aeolian mode and listen to some real minor chord progressions in action!
For all the guitarists out there, I think that the natural minor scale will sound very familiar to you. Since the minor pentatonic scale already has 5 of the 7 notes in it. I will explain how you make an Aeolian or natural minor scale and chord progression. And how you can use this for writing beautiful melodies and full songs. Just follow these three steps below.
How to write music in the Aeolian mode. And how to write music with minor chord progressions.
- Create a natural minor scale / Aeolian scale
- Create a triad or chord on each scale degree
- Focus your chords and melody on the root note, minor third, perfect fifth and minor sixth
How do you make a natural minor scale / Aeolian scale?
Music is often in a certain key. Which could be A minor or D major for example. When we talk about music being in a certain key. We actually refer to the notes that can be used in our song. And also which note feels like our home base. These notes together often if not always, form a scale. To start our journey we need the formula for a minor scale.
Minor scale blueprint / minor scale formula
If you follow this formula or blueprint of whole and half steps, then you can make a natural minor scale in any key that you like! Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step
Just keep in mind when naming the notes, that each step needs to be a different letter from the alphabet. So you cannot have C and Cb or A and A#. It should be C and B or A and Bb.
What are the most important notes in a natural minor scale? These are the root note, the minor 3rd, minor 6th and major 2nd.
Is natural minor just minor?
In short, yes it is. Natural minor is just minor. But what is natural minor? There are three types of minor scales: Natural minor, Harmonic minor and Melodic minor. Natural minor means that we have a pure minor scale without any notes changed. To get the harmonic minor scale you need to sharpen the 7th scale degree and for melodic minor, you need to sharpen both the 6th and 7th scale degrees.
How do you make a relative major scale?
Fun fact: If you know how to make a minor scale, then you already have all the notes that are in the major scale as well. To make a major scale in any key you need to follow this fixed formula of whole and half steps: Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step.
How to make Aeolion mode / minor chord progressions
To find out what are the 7 chords in the minor scale, and start to learn how to make a minor chord progression, we will use the Aeolian scale or minor scale to find out what chords we can play in our minor chord progressions. You need to create a chord or triad on each scale degree. And you do this by only using notes from the scale!
How do you make a triad? When you make a chord, just skip one scale tone and choose the next one. So for example in A minor, the chord on the first scale degree is A minor. And the notes are A-C-E. We skipped the tones B and D.
Minor Chord progression No.1 in A minor
A chord progression does not always have to have many chords. Even with two chords, you can already call it a chord progression. Together examples no.1 and no.2 will use the three most important chords in any minor chord progression.
These examples are in the key of A minor. In example no.1 the Am chord has the notes A and C in it. These notes emphasize the tonic and the minor third. While the Dm chord has the F in it, which is the minor 6th.
The A and C in your Am chord emphasize the tonic and the minor third, while de Dm has the F in it, which is the minor 6th scale degree. Looking for some extra tension? You can also emphasize the major 2nd scale degree, in this case, you can do this by adding the note B to your melody. This will sound great on both chords!
Essential Minor Chord progression No.2 in A minor
This second chord progression is a very basic minor chord progression. It is a beautiful two chord vamp of Am to Em. This is a classic i – v chord progression. The Em has a B in it, which is the major 2nd scale degree. But now the F which minor 6th scale degree is missing. As you can see it is not part of the chords, so you can add it to your melody. It can sound very nice when you play it on top of the Em chord.
Must Know Chord progression no.3 in C# minor
This progression is probably one of the most used minor chord progressions out there. It forms the harmonic backbone of countless popular songs and compositions. The smooth stepwise motion is one reason why it is a favourite. But also harmonically it has all the important notes from the Aeolian scale or natural minor scale in it. Which are the minor third, minor sixth and major second. Why don’t you try out this good minor chord progression yourself?
Chord progression No.4 in E minor With Only Minor Chords
What’s great about the Aeolian mode or natural minor is that you are able to play an i-iv-v cadence. This is the most fundamental chord progression. All the important notes of natural minor are present. But one thing that might seem strange is that all the chords are minor in this progression. Often the chord on the 5th scale degree is a major chord. And that dominant chord as it’s called, pulls you back to your tonic. For this reason, this basic chord progression sounds less directional and has less of a pull towards your root chord.
In my video tutorial, this is a minor chord progression for piano. But of course, this might as well be a minor progression for guitar. It does not matter. The beauty is that it can sound like a laid-back minor progression or like a more emotional minor chord progression.
Chord progression No.5 in C# minor
If you want your chord progression to sound a bit brighter and softer, then you can add some major chords. In this progression, the contrast between the major chords and the minor tonic chord is absolutely beautiful. The chord on the 6th scale degree, which is the A major really sets the mood, while the E major on the 3rd scale degree creates a smooth connection with the C# minor tonic chord.
As you know by now, your melody can help accentuate important notes of your mode or scale. In this example, I did just that. Listen to the beautiful sound of the D# (which is the major 2nd) in the melody.
I turned this example into a full song. Have a listen below and download it if you want to support my work on free music education.
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Chord progression No.6 on a pedal note in A minor
An example with a pedal note cannot be missed. Because pedal notes are the best and most easy way to explore all the different colours and sounds of a certain scale or mode. There are countless examples of pedal notes used in any style of music.
A pedal note is when you hold a bass note and while you switch chords or play melodies your bass note stays the same. In this chord progression example, the tension and dissonance is gradually increased towards the end. This gives a final great resolution when you reach the tonic chord again.
If you have watched the video tutorial or played these progressions yourself, then there is no denying that minor chord progressions can be fantastic. Here are some guidelines for when you want to start to write in the Aeolian mode and make minor chord progressions.
- Find and use the most important notes of the scale or mode
- Find out which chords have these notes in them
- Use these chords and the tonic to strongly confirm the mode/key
- Use the melody to accentuate important notes. Like in minor: Root, Major 2nd, Minor 3rd, Minor 6th
Many composers and musicians like to use the aeolian mode or natural minor chord progressions when writing music. You really can express so many different emotions with it.
FAQ About Minor Progressions
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Suggested Video Tutorial: Parallel Harmony / Harmonic Planing
The aeolian mode. We can also call it the natural minor scale or just natural minor. Together with the major scale, the natural minor scale is probably one of the first ones that you ever learned. And for all the guitarists out there, via the minor pentatonic scale, you’ve been actually already partially introduced to the aeolian mode.
It is one of the primary modes or scales but please don’t underestimate how much beautiful and impactful music has been written using it. So let’s explore some aeolian chord progressions and let’s get creative!
To show you just how beautiful and versatile the Aeolian mode actually is, I composed six different examples in five different styles. I’ve written a guitar, electronic pop, singer-songwriter, orchestral and piano music examples. And so that everybody can follow along, like my other videos all the examples have notes, midi, tabs, chords and Roman numerals.
In my videos on the other minor modes, I show you how you can derive them by using the natural minor scale or the Aeolian mode. But now comes the question: how do you actually make a minor scale?
To make the minor scale in any key, we need to follow this blueprint of whole steps and half steps.
We make a whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, half step, whole step, whole step. All the minor modes have a minor third in them, but what distinguishes Aeolian from the other minor modes is the fact that it has a major second. And it has the heavy sound of the minor sixth scale degree.
To find out what chords we can play in for example A minor, we use the A minor scale and we simply build a triad on each scale degree by using only notes from the A minor scale. And voila there we have it, we have our complete harmonic resource!
What if I told you that you only needed two chords to make a minor chord progression? To make it easy, this progression is in A minor. The A and C in your A minor chord accentuate the tonic and the minor third. While the Dm it has the F in it, which is the minor sixth skill degree. If you also want to emphasize the major second scale degree then you can subtly find places where to add this in your melody for example. And in this case by tastefully adding the B to your melody you really get a good sound. And plus it sounds great on both chords!
The same goes for the beautiful chord vamp of A minor to E minor. The E minor has a B in it, which is the major second scale degree. But what about the minor sixth scale degree? In this case the F it’s missing in these two chords in the A and E minor. So again we need to subtly add this in our melody and this can especially sound spicy when you put the F on the E minor chord!
The next chord progression is one of the most popular minor chord progressions and rightfully so.
It’s the fundament of countless songs and compositions And what makes this chord progression so powerful is not only the smooth stepwise motion, but also the fact that it has all the important notes of the aeolian mode in it. The major second and the minor sixth scale degree. This chord progression has proven to be an inspiration to great jams, writing sessions and improvisations. Have a listen for yourself.
If you like this one be sure to check out my songwriting example later. Because that one is just too good not to use! Oh, and this reminds me of the most famous minor chord progression of all times! All the greats have used it for example: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Bach, Purcell, you name it. I’ve made a full-blown episode on how to make six beautiful chord progressions using the Lament Bass and the Andalusian Cadence as it’s called. I promise you this one won’t disappoint.
The cool thing about the Aeolian mode or natural minor is that you can play a 1-4-5 progression. And this is the mother of all progressions! But there’s one thing that’s strange about it because all the chords are minor. So what you’re missing is this powerful sound of a major dominant chord going back to your one. So the result is that the progression will sound a bit softer because the resolution is just not that strong. And even more interesting is the fact that you can make this progression sound as you like.
It can have this cool laid-back sound to it as you’re hearing now…
Or it can sound more dark and gloomy or some may say more emotional.
Check it out.
When you want to make your minor chord progression more radiant and bright. Then by adding some major chords that would do the trick. In this next example the contrast between the minor tonic and the major chords is absolutely beautiful if you ask me.
The heavy sound of the A major chord on the minor sixth scale degree really sets the mood, while the E major on the third scale degree creates a nice smooth connection from the minor tonic. And it creates a subtle sense of brightness. Keep an eye on the melody because it subtly accentuates the important notes of the minor scale, for example the D-sharp which is the major second. Have a listen for yourself.
Just as in my other videos on modal chord progressions, an example with a pedal tone cannot be forgotten.
Because a pedal tone is really the perfect way of discovering all the colors and tones and textures that a mode has to offer. In short: a pedal tone is when you hold the bass note and it stays, while your chords on top change or while your melody on topic changes. This bass fundament is called a pedal tone.
In the next chord progression, I gradually increase the tension and dissonance towards the end.
This is to make sure that the listener feels that something is changing and that something is growing and also that you have a certain sense of resolution at the end. Have a listen.
Here are some quick tips for you to remember:
To start writing in a certain mode it is important that you find the note that is unique to the mode that you want to create music in. Find out which note it is and which chord have this note in them. Mainly use these chords and the tonic chord to strongly confirm the mode. And of course don’t underestimate the power of melody! By subtly accentuating the major second and minor sixth scale degree you can really communicate different messages and emotions. And also when necessary you can strongly confirm the mode that you’re in.
Many composers and musicians prefer to use the natural minor or aeolian mode to write music in and rightfully so. Because it’s capable of expressing so many different emotions and feelings, there’s no reason not to use it. This playlist teaches you all about beautiful modal chord progressions and melodies.
And this one is all about creative composition and songwriting techniques.
Of course, don’t forget to like and subscribe to the channel. And for now…
See you next time!