Minor Chords on Bass

Playing bass guitar
Getty Images/Guy Prives

Of all the chords to learn about, minor chords are one of the most important. They play a central role in music theory and chord progressions and can be found in pretty much any song or musical piece you take a look at. They sound sad, moody or dark, as opposed to the more cheerful sound of a major chord.

A minor chord is made up of three notes. They are the first, third and fifth notes of a minor scale. Because of this, the three chord tones are called the "root," the "third," and the "fifth." In between the first two notes is the musical interval of a minor third, and in between the last two is a major third.

The frequencies of the three notes in a minor chord line up with each other in a 10 to 12 to 15 ratio, creating a nice harmony. That is to say, for every 10 vibrations of the root note, there are about 12 vibrations of the third and 15 of the fifth.

On the fretboard diagram to the right, you can see the two basic patterns made by the chord tones of a minor chord on the fretboard. Once you know where the root of the chord is, you can find the other chord tones using these patterns.

Root of the Minor Chord

First, find the root of the minor chord with your first finger on either the third or fourth string. Now, the third can be played with your fourth finger, three frets above the root and the fifth can be played using your third finger two frets above the root on the next string up. At the same fret as the fifth, a string higher is the root an octave up. Depending on which string you found the root on, you can also reach the third an octave up or the fifth an octave down.

When you encounter a minor chord in a song, you can use all the minor chord tones in your bass line. Generally, it's best to play the root first, on the downbeat. After the root, the fifth is most useful, and the third is least priority. You can use other notes if you want, but try to only use them as embellishments or as leading tones into the next chord.