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Bluegrass Mandolin Lesson: Finding Minor Chords


When first learning how to play the mandolin, or any instrument for that matter, the first two types of chords that students typically learn are major and minor harmonies. These harmonies each offer drastically different emotive characteristics and tonal qualities but are very closely related. In fact, there is a simple relationship between the two harmonies that allows players to easily determine one from the other. Understanding this fundamental relationship between major and minor chords is critical and will help you further understand a variety of music theory concepts.


In this online mandolin lesson, world-renowned mandolinist, Grammy-nominated musician, and former member of the David Grisman Quintet, Mike Marshall, outlines how to derive minor chords from their corresponding major harmonies beginning with the common G, C, D, and A major chords. In addition to illustrating how the fingerings differ between the relative major and minor chords, Mike also explains the music theory behind these different tonalities so that you understand how these fingerings are determined. He then goes on to apply a few of these minor chords to the classic tune, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass mandolin from a master musician like Mike Marshall? Try some free online mandolin lessons now!


“In this lesson, I’m going to take the G, C, A, and D major chords and show you how to transform them into minor chords,” Mike explains. “Minor chords have a flat third in them. Without getting too deep into the theory of it, this essentially means that we lower the third scale degree of the chord down one fret to transform the chord from major to minor.”


What’s the difference between major and minor chords?

The difference between a major and minor chord comes down to one, simple change: the third degree of the scale. A major chord contains the first, third, and fifth degrees of the major scale. Like a major chord, a minor chord also contains the first and fifth notes of the major scale that it's named for. However, unlike the major chord, the minor chord contains a flattened third (or third lowered by a half-step) that gives it a darker quality.


“Minor chords give you that spooky sound,” explains Mike. “Simply altering the placement of one finger changes the quality of the chord from happy and major, to spooky and minor.”


To learn more about deriving minor chords from major triads and how to incorporate them into your playing, dive into this online mandolin lesson from Mike Marshall:


Finding Minor Chords with Mike Marshall:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play the bluegrass mandolin? Through our comprehensive mandolin lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Mike Marshall, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Mike’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner mandolin to advanced performance techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, improvisation methods, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as mandolinists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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