Practical Music Theory Tips #4 – Relative Minor Chord

Ryan Egan —  December 20, 2007 — 13 Comments

So, we’ve looked at basic triads.  We’ve looked at inverting those triads.  We’ve also looked at weird chord suffixes that can help us extend our chords a little bit.  Let’s look at the other most common chord in popular music: the relative minor or vi (six) chord.

Finding the Relative Minor Chord

Each major key signature has a corresponding (relative) minor key with the same signature. You can find the relative minor of a major key in two ways:  count up six steps beginning with the tonic (first note) of the scale.  So, in the key of C, we would start with C and count up six steps to A.  Building our basic triad (A, skip, C, skip, E) gives us a minor chord now, instead of the major chords we looked at earlier in the week. This chord is root chord of C’s relative minor key, A minor.  A minor has the same key signature as C major, no sharps or flats.

The other way to find the relative minor is count down a minor third (or 3 half steps) from the first note of the scale (not including the first note).  In the key of C major we would count down B to Bb/A# to A.  We’ve landed on A, which tells us that A minor will be the relative minor of C major.

Using the Relative Minor Chord

So why do we care, as worship leaders?   For one thing, the vi (six) chord, which is the same as the root chord in the relative minor key is found in almost every single worship song there is.  It is good to know how to play it.  Secondly, the vi (six) chord can act as a sort of “trick” ending (the fancy term is “deceptive cadence”).

Because the I (one) chord (in C, C-E-G) and the vi (six) chord (in C, A-C-E) share two notes, they can often be used interchangeably.   If the song ends on the root note of the key (in our case, C), either chord could be played.  If the vi (six) chord is played, the ear realizes that the song is not done yet, because the music did not end on the root chord of the key, even though the melody ended on the root note of the key.

This is especially helpful when a worship leader wants to repeat the last phrase of a song, but wants to add some variety.  Instead of ending on the I (one) chord and repeating the exact same thing, the worship leader has the band “trick” end on the vi (six) chord and then repeat the last phrase, ending on the I (chord)

Whew.  That was a lot of info!  Hopefully it all made sense.  Leave questions and comments if it didn’t.  Also, for more visual learning and some fantastic training excercises, visit musictheory.net.  I highly recommend this great, free site for training yourself in music theory.

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.
  • http://www.chrisfromcanada.com Chris

    Hey Ryan – I’ve posted and linked this whole series over at my blog. Very helpful for people!

  • http://www.chrisfromcanada.com Chris

    Hey Ryan – I’ve posted and linked this whole series over at my blog. Very helpful for people!

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Chris,

    Thanks so much for linking on your blog! I’m very glad you found this helpful. I’m hoping to do more as soon as I’m off my blogging break, which will probably be the end of this week and then back full time next week. Thanks again!

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Chris,

    Thanks so much for linking on your blog! I’m very glad you found this helpful. I’m hoping to do more as soon as I’m off my blogging break, which will probably be the end of this week and then back full time next week. Thanks again!

  • kenneth

    I love Music like you do
    I love your music more then you know

    Thanks
    yours faithfully

    kenneth s. kponi

  • kenneth

    I love Music like you do
    I love your music more then you know

    Thanks
    yours faithfully

    kenneth s. kponi

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Thanks for the comment, Kenneth! Where are you writing from?

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Thanks for the comment, Kenneth! Where are you writing from?

  • Emmie

    I want to end end a song — not repeat — on
    the one chord of the relative minor. Is this
    permitted? It seems that I have heard it
    done before.

  • Emmie

    I want to end end a song — not repeat — on
    the one chord of the relative minor. Is this
    permitted? It seems that I have heard it
    done before.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hi Emmie!

    Well, it really depends on what you’re doing. If you are going to be playing the next song in the relative minor key, it would be a perfect way to transition. Or, if you want to end on a somber mood instead of a more joyous one, that would be great as well. However, if you want to end it on the relative minor “just because,” it might not be the greatest idea. It’s always good to have a purpose for what you’re doing musically.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hi Emmie!

    Well, it really depends on what you’re doing. If you are going to be playing the next song in the relative minor key, it would be a perfect way to transition. Or, if you want to end on a somber mood instead of a more joyous one, that would be great as well. However, if you want to end it on the relative minor “just because,” it might not be the greatest idea. It’s always good to have a purpose for what you’re doing musically.

  • http://www.resumewritingservice.biz//home/premium-resume-writers/ resume writers

    Sorry, iamanoffering, I’m going to give a much simpler answer. But it still has its right to exist. Just listen to the chord you want to use. If it fits your idea of how the song should finish – use it!