• Week 6: Minor Sixth Chord + Chord Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    minor sixth chord

    Welcome to this week’s lesson on minor sixth chord.

    The minor sixth chord is essentially a minor triad with an added tone – major sixth. Here’s a quick illustration in the key of C minor:

    C minor triad:

    …plus a major sixth interval:

    …would produce a minor sixth chord:

    No doubt, the minor sixth chord has its place in classical and popular music styles but it is used sparingly.

    There are two reasons, among others, for this and I’ll share them with you in this post.

    This is week 6 of our 16-week chord revival program!

    If you’re just joining, feel free to view the content of previous weeks by clicking on any of the links below:

    Welcome aboard!

    The Melodic Minor Scale

    One of the reasons why the minor sixth chord is rarely used is because the natural minor scale does not have a major sixth interval.

    In the C minor scale:

    …you can construct a minor triad by picking and skipping notes (aka – “the pick and skip technique”.)

    Pick C:

    …skip D and pick Eb:

    …pick F and skip G:

    At this point, we’ve formed the C minor triad:

    If we add the sixth tone of the scale (Ab):

    …will produce the first inversion of Ab major seventh:

    …which is a clear departure from our focus in this post.

    (Not bad though! Heck, someone told me to tell someone to tell you that the wittiest inventions are usually discovered accidentally. Lol)

    The chord formed isn’t a minor sixth and this is because the interval between the first and sixth tones of the natural minor scale is not a major sixth.

    In a previous post, I explained the shortcomings of the pure minor scale to you and the introduction of a variation of the pure minor scale.

    In this segment, we’ll be looking at another variation of the pure minor scale that can form the interval of the major sixth between the first and sixth tones.

    This scale is known as the melodic minor scale.

    “Help! What’s The Easiest Way To Form The Melodic Minor Scale?”

    In order to stay within the goal of this post, I’ll show you the easiest scale formation secret that can help you form the melodic minor scale.

    (In another future post, we’ll get deeper into the origin and many more insights of the melodic minor scale.)

    Scale Formation of the Melodic Minor Scale

    The melodic minor scale can be derived from any known major scale by lowering its third scale tone by a semitone. The third tone of the C major scale:

    …is E:

    Lowering E (by a half step) to Eb:

    …will produce the C melodic minor scale:

    Just like the major sixth interval in the C major scale, the interval between the first and sixth tones (C and A respectively) of the melodic minor scale:

    …form a major sixth.

    This is one rare quality of the melodic minor scale that makes it important in the chord formation of the minor sixth chord.

    Now that we have a minor scale with a major sixth interval, we can say that the minor sixth chord is built off the first, third, fifth and sixth tones of the melodic minor scale.

    We’ll take a look at chord formation in the next segment.

    Just before we continue…

    Go through the melodic minor scale in all keys.

    Derive the melodic minor scale from any known major scale by lowering the third tone by a semitone (half step).

    Breakdown Of The Minor Sixth Chord

    Below is the classic C minor sixth chord:

    Let’s breakdown the minor sixth chord to see what stuff it’s made of.

    C-Eb:

    …the minor third.

    C-G:


    …the perfect fifth.

    C-A:


    …the major sixth.

    We’re able to see three intervals that the minor sixth chord is built off…

    Minor third
    Perfect fifth
    Major sixth

    The properties of these intervals affect the overall quality of the chord formed.

    The Minor Third

    The minor third is formed between the first and third tones of the melodic minor scale.

    In the C melodic minor scale:

    …the third scale tone is Eb:

    …therefore, C-Eb:

    …is a minor third.

    The minor quality (aka – “tonality“) of the minor sixth chord is derived from the minor third interval.

    Treat as important…

    The tonality of a chord depends on the quality of interval between the first and third chord tone.

    The minor sixth chord:

    …is a minor chord because it has a minor third interval:

    The Perfect Fifth

    This interval is formed between the first and the fifth tones of the melodic minor scale. In the C melodic minor scale:

    …the fifth scale tone is G:

    …therefore, C-G:

    …is a perfect fifth.

    Take note…

    The perfect fifth interval is a universally consonant interval formed between the first and fifth degrees of the melodic minor scale. This universal consonance is associated with stability. This interval is one of the components of the minor sixth chord that makes it stable.

    Owing to the universal consonance and stability of the perfect fifth interval, the minor sixth chord tends to be stable.

    Note this…

    If you stack the minor third:

    …and perfect fifth:

    …together in one octave, this would produce:

    …the classic C minor triad.

    This is an interesting link that connects minor triads and minor sixth chords. Minor sixth chords are minor triads with an added sixth tone.

    The Major Sixth

    The major sixth is formed between the first and sixth tones of the melodic minor scale. Here’s an example,

    In the C melodic minor scale:

    …the sixth scale tone is A:

    …therefore, C-A:

    …is a major sixth.

    Addition of the major sixth interval to any known interval will produce an added-tone chord (e.g. – “major sixth, minor sixth, etc”).

    Added-tone chords feature non-tertian tones like the 2nd, 4th and 6th tones of the melodic minor scale.

    Chord Formation of the Minor Sixth Chord

    In the earlier segment, I introduced you to the melodic minor scale. Chord formation of the minor sixth chord is easy with the knowledge of the melodic minor scale.

    From the first week of this FREE 16-week chord revival program, we’ve always exposed you to three exceptional approaches to chord formation.

    In this 6th week, I’ll be showing you three things you must know that will help your formation of the minor sixth chord in all keys.

    Chord Formation of the Minor Sixth Chord using Scale Knowledge

    There aren’t many minor scales with the major sixth interval.

    Besides the melodic minor scale:

    …the dorian mode:

    …is another minor scale that has the major sixth interval.

    Knowledge of both scales are important in the chord formation of the minor sixth chord.

    Scale Knowledge #1 – The Melodic Minor Scale

    Considering that you’re already acquainted with the process of the scale formation of the melodic minor scale, let’s do a chord formation exercise with it.

    C melodic minor scale:

    …would produce the C minor sixth chord using the pick and skip technique. It’s simpler than you think.

    Pick C:

    …skip D and pick Eb:

    …skip F and pick G:

    At this point, we’ve formed a minor triad:

    …consisting of C, Eb, and G. We’ll just have to add the sixth tone of the C melodic minor scale to produce the C minor sixth chord.

    “What’s the sixth tone of the C melodic minor scale?”

    If your answer is A, then you are right.

    Addition of this sixth tone (A):

    …to the minor chord (C-Eb-G):

    ….will produce the minor sixth chord:

    …which is an added-tone chord.

    It will take the same effort or less in other keys to produce their minor sixth chords.

    Scale Knowledge #2 – The Dorian Mode

    There are two easy techniques that can help you derive the dorian more. Check them out:

    1. Lower the seventh tone of the melodic minor scale
    2. Lower the third and seventh tones of the major scale

    Lowering the seventh tone of C melodic minor scale (B) by a half step would produce C dorian mode:

    Alternatively, lowering the third and seventh tones of the major scale (E and B) by a half step:

    …would also produce the dorian mode.

    Even though the dorian mode can also be used in the chord formation of the minor sixth chord, we’ll stick to using the melodic minor scale.

    This is because it is related to the present day tonality while the dorian mode features ancient modes.

    Chord Formation of the Minor Sixth Chord using Interval Knowledge

    In the earlier segment, we broke the minor sixth chord down into its intervallic components, which are the minor third, perfect fifth, and the major sixth intervals.

    Chord formation of the minor sixth can be done using these intervals. Consider the following intervals…

    The minor third (C-Eb):

    The perfect fifth is C-G:

    The major sixth C-A:

    Putting these intervals together within the compass of an octave would produce the C minor sixth chord:

    Following the same process would produce the minor sixth chord in all twelve keys.

    Chord Formation of the Minor Sixth Chord using Chord Knowledge

    We can approach chord formation of the minor sixth chord with the minor triad.

    Remember what I said in an earlier segment: “minor sixth chords are added-tone chords.”

    Therefore, addition of the sixth tone of the melodic minor scale to the minor triad will produce the minor sixth chord.

    Check out the minor sixth chords derived from the minor triads in all keys below:

    C minor triad vs C minor sixth chord:

    C# minor triad vs C# minor sixth chord:

    D minor triad vs D minor sixth chord:

    Eb minor triad vs Eb minor sixth chord:

    E minor triad vs E minor sixth chord:

    F minor triad vs F minor sixth chord:

    F# minor triad vs F# minor sixth chord:

    G minor triad vs G minor sixth chord:

    G# minor triad vs G# minor sixth chord:

    A minor triad vs A minor sixth chord:

    Bb minor triad vs Bb minor sixth chord:

    B minor triad vs B minor sixth chord:

    Final Words

    The sound of the minor sixth chord is distant from that of the pure minor scale and sometimes sounds foreign because there is no major sixth interval in the pure minor scale.

    This is one of the reasons why the minor sixth chord is rarely used.

    Another one is because the minor sixth chord is tritonic. Tritonic chords are chords that have the tritone (aka – “augmented fourth”).

    The interval between the third and sixth tones of the minor sixth chord is an augmented fourth (aka – “tritone). In the C minor sixth chord, the interval between the third and sixth tones – Eb and A:

    …is an augmented fourth.

    The tritone is arguably the most restless interval of all times. Heck, it was even banned in the 18th century.

    The minor sixth chord has a degree of restlessness because of this tritone.

    Considering that tritones have grown to become the toast of jazz, gospel, etc., and are not considered as harsh and restless as they were before the 20th century, it’s possible to hear a lot of it presently and in the future.

    Further reading: Yesterday’s Dissonance, Today’s Consonance.

    Chord of the Day Quiz


    “Who Can Tell Me What Chord The C Minor Sixth Would Produce Over F Bass Note?”

    P.S. – Don’t forget to download the Reference Guide and cheat sheets.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Joe

    (Fd79) F dominate 7 add 9

    Reply

    2 David

    I don’t know if I spelt it correctly- G11b6add9, Cm6(11), F7add9, Eb6b5(9)

    Reply

    3 Osas

    Fdom9

    Reply

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