BY KATE KOENIG

Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. The chords you’ve learned so far—C, G, and D—have all been major. This week you’ll be focusing on the first minor chord in the series, A minor.

The Work

You have learned that a major triad has three notes—the root, the third, and the fifth. A minor triad contains the same three notes, except the third is flatted, or lowered by a half step. An A minor triad consists of the notes A (root), C (minor third), and E (fifth), as depicted in Example 1.


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In music notation, a minor chord is usually denoted with a lowercase m or min after a note name. You’ll find the most common Am voicing in Example 2. The doubled notes here are A and E; there is only one C.

In Example 3a, you’ll find the most common Am barre chord, in fifth position, with three As, two Es, and one C. Examples 3b–C show some derivations on this shape, each using a barre only on the top three strings and Ex. 3b taking advantage of the open A string.

For some less common Am voicings, check out Examples 4a–4b. These shapes are identical, except Ex. 4a contains the note A on string 4, while Ex. 4b includes a C on that string.

Example 5a is based on the same shape as Ex. 1, but the fretted notes are played an octave (12 frets) higher, and Example 5b offers a further variation. Both of these examples are best played on a guitar whose neck joins the body at the 14th fret, like an OM or modern dreadnought.

The Result

If you’ve been keeping up with these videos, you should know various ways to play C, G, and D major chords; how to switch between C–G and G–D; and now, different ways of doing an A minor chord. One famous song that makes extensive use of an A minor chord is Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” In the next lesson, I’ll show you how to play your second minor chord, Em.