Minor Chords for the 5-String Banjo – Part One

Minor chords are characterized by a sad or sorrowful sound, and they add a lot to a chord progression. I am going to dig into a bit of music theory to help you better understand minor chords, and how to use them.

Let’s take a major chord and turn it into a minor chord – We’ll start with a G chord. The G chord is made up of three notes – G, B and D; these notes are also the first, third and fifth notes of a G scale. A minor chord is formed by flatting the third, or lowering the third by a half step. So a Gm or G minor chord consists of G, Bb and D.


When you play in the key of G, the most commonly used major chords are G, C and D – but what is the most common minor chord in the key of G? That chord is E minor (Em) – of course there is a reason why Em is the most common. The sixth note of the G major scale is E – it’s minor chord is called the relative minor. Em is the relative minor because the Em scale has the same notes as the G scale.

As with the major chords – there are different ways to form minor chords. Let’s take a look at Em first; it is composed of three notes: E, G and B. In this case you only need to fret two strings, the 1st and 4th at the second fret. these two notes are both E and the open strings are G and B.


The Fm chord shown below is the same chord formation as Em and can be moved up and down the neck. The root note of this chord (F) is played on the 1st and 4th strings – so if you want to play a Gm chord, just move this formation up the neck two frets to the G on the 4th string, fifth fret.


The next chord formation is demonstrated by an Am chord and has it’s root note (A) on the 3rd string. To play a Bm with this formation slide up two frets to the B on the 3rd string and you are playing a B minor.



We have shown minor chord formations that have their root notes on the 1st, 3rd and 4th strings – C#m demonstrates the minor chord form with its root on the 2nd string. So, to use this chord formation, just find the root on the 2nd string and your set.


These chords have to be practiced to allow for quick changes, so start working on them and strive for clean and clear chords.

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4 Responses to “Minor Chords for the 5-String Banjo – Part One”

  1. Rashed Nabi on June 11th, 2012 11:22 am

    The descriptive notes are very useful.

  2. Jerry Scott on October 30th, 2012 1:35 pm

    I really appreciate your info on minor chords for the banjo. I teach oldtime(clawhammer) banjo
    at home and at Centre College in Danville, KY.
    This information will be good to give to my students.
    Thanks Again
    Jerry Scott

  3. Bernd Willimek on December 14th, 2013 9:41 am

    Why do Minor Keys Sound Sad?
    If you want to answer the question, why minor chords sound sad, there is the problem, that some minor chords don’t sound sad. The solution is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can just convey processes of will, but the music listener fills this processes of will with emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic movie in television, the movie cannot transmit emotions directly, but processes of will. The spectator perceives the processes of will dyed with emotions – identifying with the protagonist. When you listen music you identify too, but with an anonymous will now.
    If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    This operations of will in the music were unknown until the Theory of Musical Equilibration discovered them. And therefore many previous researches in psychology of music failed. If you want more information about music and emotions and get the answer, why music touches us emotionally, you can download the essay “Music and Emotions – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration” for free. You can get it on the link:
    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:
    Enjoy reading
    Bernd Willimek

  4. Bernd Willimek on May 14th, 2014 10:17 am

    Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad?

    The Theory of Musical Equilibration states that in contrast to previous hypotheses, music does not directly describe emotions: instead, it evokes processes of will which the listener identifies with.

    A major chord is something we generally identify with the message, “I want to!” The experience of listening to a minor chord can be compared to the message conveyed when someone says, “No more.” If someone were to say the words “no more” slowly and quietly, they would create the impression of being sad, whereas if they were to scream it quickly and loudly, they would be come across as furious. This distinction also applies for the emotional character of a minor chord: if a minor harmony is repeated faster and at greater volume, its sad nature appears to have suddenly turned into fury.

    The Theory of Musical Equilibration applies this principle as it constructs a system which outlines and explains the emotional nature of musical harmonies. For more information you can google Theory of Musical Equilibration.

    Bernd Willimek

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