Henry Wadsworth Longfellow might have said, “Into each life, a little rain must fall,” but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about using ukulele minor chords. (Or was he?) When you look at it, rain is important for life on the planet – and that includes us! In music, that “little rain” can take the form of minor ukulele chords.
Minor ukulele chords are so important for great chord progressions, even in the major keys. They provide support, structure, and nuance to your chord progressions, and the good news is that there are a handful of minor chords that are easy to play!
What Is a Chord?
Before we get started learning about ukulele minor chords, let’s define what a chord actually is. In Western music theory, a chord is defined as three or more notes from a major scale that are played at the same time. In general, a basic chord is made up of the first, third, and fifth notes of the major or minor scale. Whether that chord is major or minor depends on what scale you’re pulling those notes from.
For example, if you’re pulling notes from the C major scale, your root chord would be C major and consist of the notes C (first note of the scale) – E (third note of the scale) – G (fifth note of the scale). Because there are no sharps or flats in the key of C major, there are no sharp or flat notes in that chord.
Another way to look at building chords is to look at the relationship between the notes you pull from the major scale. In the C major chord, there are two whole steps between the C and the E, and one and a half steps from the E to the G. Those three notes are found naturally in the C major scale.
Difference Between Major and Minor Chords
If you look at the chords that occur in the key of C major, you’ll notice a mix of major and minor chords. (And one diminished chord, but that’s a topic for another blog.) When you create a minor chord in any scale, you drop the second note (the third note in the scale) down by half a step.
That means that in the key of C, to create a minor chord, you’ll use the same notes – the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale – but there will be one and a half steps between the first note and the third note, and two whole steps between the third note and the fifth note.
Using the chord of C as an example to compare and contrast, the chord of C minor would consist of the same three notes as the chord of C major: C, E, and G, but we will drop that third note by half a step. That gives us the notes of C – E flat – G for our C minor chord.
Just listening to the minor chord versions of the major chords, we can hear how that drop of half a step on the third note of the scale creates a somewhat sad sound. But that sad sound can create a whole new world of musical complexity and beauty if you know where to use them!
Ukulele Minor Chords in Chord Progressions
Chord progressions are the backbone of any song or musical composition, so knowing which chords in your key are major and minor is the first step in learning how to create and play beautiful songs. Using the key of C major again, we see that the seven chords in that key are:
- C major (I)
- D minor (ii)
- E minor (iii)
- F major (IV)
- G major (V)
- A minor (vi)
- B diminished (vii)
Notice that the second, third, and sixth chords of the progression are denoted with lowercase Roman numerals and that they’re all minor chords. Major chords in the key of C major are all denoted with upper-case Roman numerals.
Want to try a fun little exercise right now to see just how beautiful the ukulele minor chords can be? Grab your ukulele tuned to G-C-E-A (doesn’t matter if it’s low g or high g for this) and start strumming your C major and G major chords. Just go back and forth, holding each chord for four beats.
Now strum your C major chord for four beats but switch over to a D minor for four beats before going to the G major chord. Do you hear the depth that progression could add to a lovely melody?
Next, try strumming four beats of C major and then four beats of F major chords. Then add in either an A minor or D minor between the C major and F major. More opportunities for beautiful music!
Easy Ukulele Minor Chords in the Key of C
Now that I’ve got you hooked on playing ukulele minor chords, let’s take a peek at how you play the minor chords in the key of C major:
- A minor – To play this chord, you’ll fret the second fret of the fourth (G) string and strum the other open notes.
- D minor – Fret the second fret of the fourth (G) and third (C) strings, and the first fret of the second (E) string, and strum the open first (A) string.
- E minor – Fret the fourth fret of the third (C ) string, the third fret of the second (E ) string, and the second fret of the first (A) string. Strum with the open fourth string.
- G minor – One of my favorite minor ukulele chords! Fret the second fret of the third (C ) string, the third fret of the second (E ) string, and the first fret of the first (A) string. Strum with the open fourth (G) string.
- C minor – A great bar chord for beginners! Fret the third fret of the third (C ), second (E ), and first (A) strings.
- A minor 7 – Probably the easiest minor ukulele chord out there! Just strum all of the open strings and enjoy!