When it comes to getting our Minor key chord progressions to have a strong sound, there's one chord degree that just can't be beat for gaining strength and that's the sixth degree of Natural Minor.
This particular harmonic degree offers the composer an extremely substantial use of harmonic power during both the beginning and at the ending of a minor key chord progression.
In getting started, we should review Minor Key Harmony. We can quickly examine the triad harmony of a minor key to refresh how the Minor Tonality applies chords across it's degrees.
In example one we have a harmonized, "A Natural Minor" scale. The chords are each indicated above the staff and the harmonic degrees, (Roman Numerals) are indicated below the staff.
The sixth chord in the key of, "A Natural Minor," happens to be the chord of, "F Major." This particular chord is part of the Sub-dominant family of chord type. The job of the Sub-dominant is to produce a "moving away" effect. In our Minor keys this just so happens to be very strong and it really creates a powerful impact.
In example two, I have an "A Minor" chord progression that begins with an embellishment (slide) into the tonal center chord of, "A." The next chord is that power-house "VI" degree, (the "F Major"). Right from the start of the movement into the VI chord we really gain a substantial feel for the quality of the minor tonality. Listen to the audio and then practice playing through the chord progression for example two below.
This powerful sound, of the tonic chord moving directly into the sixth chord of the minor harmony can be heard very clearly in Tony MacAlpine's song, "Key to the City," from his 1987 album "Maximum Security." Have a listen below. The VI chord enters at [00:21] four bars after the Verse progression begins, (after the intro). You immediately get the effect of the minor key reinforced when the VI chord appears.
Tony Macalpine - Key to the city
Another strong effect for the use of the VI chord in minor keys happens when we apply a scale passage (as a riff) in between the measures. We can end off in one measure from the VI chord, play the riff idea, and then return back to the VI chord creating a very robust sound within the minor structure.
In example three I've created a chord progression in the key of "E Minor," which produces this type of concept. Listen to the audio and then practice playing through the chord progression for example three below.
One of the more classic applications of the use of the VI chord in Minor Keys is when this harmonic degree is used to 'pull in' the appearance of the VII chord. This can be heard perfectly in Iron Maiden's song, "Aces High." Both the song's Intro., and the Verse employ this harmonic movement right at the very beginning of the piece. Have a listen to the song, and play along to really notice this very pronounced minor effect of the I chord moving up to the VI and then up to the VII chord.
Iron Maiden - Aces High
To further enhance the powerful effect of the movement of the minor key's I chord to the VI and then up to the VII we can add one more harmonic idea into the mix. In example four I've created a riff that applies the key of "E Minor's" I chord moving into the VI and to the VII, but to further the effect I've added the raised VII chord borrowed from the key of Harmonic Minor. This is a great way to add slightly more pull for a more active resolution to the root of the key.
Listen to the audio and then practice playing through the chord progression for example four below.
In wrapping up, I want to emphasize the staunch effect that this type of minor key movement offers us when composing in minor keys. It's a fantastic minor sound. And, it not only helps us develop strong minor progressions when composing original minor key chord ideas, but it works excellent for our ear training. The reason being that the strength of this movement will really connect easily and help build another sound that we can lock in on when transcribing, or playing live.
Thanks for checking out this post, have fun practicing this information.
- Andrew Wasson