Music Theory

Using Piano Chords in C Minor

By Claire Robertson
C Minor Scale: C Min Chords & Piano Notes. Natural Minor, Melodic Minor, & Harmonic Minor

What chords are in the key of C minor? Learn all about the C minor scale and C minor chords below

Are you struggling to understand how to play piano chords in C minor? We can help you understand the C minor piano chords you need to play any piece in that key.

The C minor scale is indicated with 3 flats in the key signature. C minor uses the same building blocks of major and minor piano chords as any other piano key. To understand how to play C minor piano chords, it is important to learn the building blocks of the scale. In this article, we will walk you through the notes of the C minor scale, and how to put those notes together to play C minor chords on the piano. 

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Why is the C minor scale so popular?

C minor is used in some of the most popular works in classical music! The noteworthy beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? C minor. The catchy ‘80’s pop song power anthem Eye of the Tiger? C minor! 

Traditionally, this scale was associated with sadness – but because all minor keys are created the same way, it just depends on how the listener interprets the music written in that key. While some listeners consider C minor to be sad or gloomy, every minor key uses the same combination of half and whole steps. This means that every listener forms their own relationship with each minor key.  

As an experiment, take some time to listen to the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and then to Mendelssohn’s First Symphony and write down some emotion words that come to mind describing each piece. While both of these pieces are in the key of C minor and use C minor chords, you’ll likely associate different emotions with each piece. 

What are the notes of the C minor scale on piano?

Knowing the notes of the C minor scale is the first step in learning the chords in C minor for piano. Did you know there are actually 3 different types of minor scale in Western music? There is the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale. Each different ‘flavor’ of minor scale sounds different because each one is built with a different combination of half and whole steps on the piano keys. Once you know the notes of the C minor scale on piano, you can learn how to play C minor chords that fit the quality of the piece you are learning! 

Let’s start with the building blocks of natural minor – you can use these with any starting note to make the minor scale! Natural minor begins with the starting note and travels whole step – half step – whole step –  whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. To build the C natural minor scale, start on C and take a whole step up to D, a half step to Eb, a whole step to F, a whole step to G, a half step to Ab, a whole step to Bb, and a whole step to C. If you are familiar with solfege, natural minor is do – re – me – fa – so – le – te – do. 

Notes of the C natural minor scale.
Notes of the C natural minor scale.

Next, let’s make the C melodic minor scale! To make the melodic minor, raise the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale when it’s ascending. This makes the melodic minor scale sound more like major, because the end of the scale is now la – ti – do. So, the C melodic minor scale ascending is C- D -Eb – F – G – A – B – C The descending scale for C Melodic Minor is the same as in C natural minor – the 6th and 7th scale degrees are flat coming back down.

c melodic ascending descending


The final version of the C minor scale is C harmonic minor. Harmonic minor incorporates qualities of both natural minor and melodic minor scales. C harmonic minor is the same scale as C natural minor, but the 7th scale degree is raised, so the final notes are le – ti – do. 

C Harmonic Minor Scale

What keys are closely related to C minor?

When musicians think about the relationship between different keys, we organize this information into patterns. Keys can relate to each other as relative major or minor, or parallel major or minor. C minor’s parallel major is C major, and C minor’s relative major is Eb major. The parallel major starts on the same note ( C ) and the relative major has the same key signature (Eb), but starts on a different note. 

Another way musical keys relate to one another is through the Circle of Fifths. To move around the circle of fifths using key signatures, you can add or subtract an accidental note. Thinking harmonically, you can move to a different key by going to the dominant, or fifth scale degree. G major and minor are related to C minor through the Circle of Fifths. It’s important to note that composers in one piece may modulate, or move, through a parallel major or relative major or minor key as they journey through the piece’s emotional landscape.

What are the chords in C minor scale?

The chords in the C minor scale are as follows:

The C minor chord is the i chord, or tonic chord, and is made up of C – Eb- and G – or Do – Me – So in solfege. Remember, in minor, “mi” changes to “me”, because the third scale degree is flat.  

In C minor, the next chord built on D is the supertonic chord, or ii chord. It is a diminished chord, and is made up of D – F – Ab. A diminished chord sounds crunchier than a minor chord, because there are fewer half steps between the middle and top notes of the chord! Take a moment and sit at your piano and count the half steps between C -Eb- G and D – F – Ab. What do you notice? There are more half steps between Eb and G than between F and Ab. 

Our next chord is the mediant chord, or III chord. This chord is major in quality, and is Eb – G – Bb.

The next chord is a subdominant; the iv chord is minor and starts on F.   F – Ab – C is the fourth C minor piano chord for this scale. 

The next chord starts on the fifth scale degree – G. G in minor can be a major chord or a minor chord, depending on how the songwriter uses the chord in the song. When the v chord in C minor is minor, it is G – Bb – D. When the V chord is major and used to resolve the song, it is G – B – D. 

The next chord is the submediant, or 6th degree of the scale and it is major in quality. The notes in this chord are Ab – C – Eb.

The final C minor chord is the subtonic, which is diminished, or leading tone, if it uses the notes from the C minor melodic minor scale. 

C minor chords

Remember,  a song might be in the key of C Minor, but borrow keys from relative major or minor keys! This means that not every chord in a song in the key of C minor is one of the chords above – it might be a different chord sneaking in. Be sure to check your sheet music to see if there are places where the key modulates – or moves to a different tonic or starting note – and to see if there are any accidentals (flats, naturals, or sharps) that change the quality of a chord. 

With the building blocks in this article, you can explore C minor chords and the C minor scale on piano, or try building chords in a new minor scale. We hope you enjoy adding chords to your songs in C minor with Hoffman Academy!

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