How to Play the A Minor Chord
The A minor chord is one of the most widely-used chords that can be heard in a variety of popular songs. Learn this rich-sounding chord here.
By Lana Cooper
The Am (A minor) chord is one of the most widely-used chords that can be heard in a variety of popular songs. When played in standard E tuning, the Am chord has a rich, heavy sound. And, like most minor chords, its tone evokes a somber or sad emotional feel.
The Am chord can be found in songs across a variety of genres, including rock, folk and country. Let’s dive in and learn how to play it!
Playing the A Minor Chord
The A minor chord can be a challenge for beginner guitarists who haven’t built up their finger dexterity to make a swift transition to land their fingers on the correct strings and frets . However, when you look at the sheer volume of songs that use the Am chord, it’s a challenge worth accepting.
With some practice, you’ll be able to easily “stick the landing” and master the finger positioning required to play the A minor chord.
To play the chord, begin by placing your first (index) finger on the first fret of your B string. From there, place your second (middle) finger on the second fret of your G string. Finally, stretch your third (ring) finger over to the D string on the second fret.
- Index finger: 1st fret of the B (2nd) string
- Middle finger: 2nd fret of the D (4th) string
- Ring finger: 2nd fret of the G (3rd) string
Strum 5 strings down from the A string and let the chord ring out.
What Notes Make Up the A Minor Chord?
There are no flats or sharps in an A minor chord. Rather, this chord sounds the following notes when played together:
A, E, A, C, E
When playing the Am chord, you’ll be striking every string except for your low E, whether you’re playing an upward or downward strumming pattern.
Songs That Use the Am Chord
When played by itself, the A minor chord has a downbeat tone. It’s no surprise the chord finds its way into songs with an introspective edge. However, the Am chord also appears in some up-tempo songs, serving as an edgy contrast to major chords. Here are some examples:
Pensive classic rock songs like “One” by U2, “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” showcase the sonic power of the A minor chord to set the tone (pun intended) for songs with heavier lyrical content. More recent rock hits like Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” and “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters keep that sentiment alive and well with their use of A minor.
The Am chord also lends itself to creating a mood for songs. Take note of the psychedelic feel of the Clapton-powered Cream classic, “White Room.” Or the power ballad majesty of “Love Song” by Tesla. You can also hear the A minor chord create an unsettling feel in “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies, which was featured in the final scene of the movie Fight Club.
The A minor chord is a mainstay in classic and modern folk songs steeped in wistful yearning. Its deep, velvety sound could be heard in the equally deep and velvety-voiced Leonard Cohen’s iconic ballad, “Hallelujah.” Covered by everyone from Jeff Buckley to k.d. lang to Rufus Wainwright, the song lyrics actually point out the placement of the A “minor fall” and the (F chord’s) “major lift.”
The Am chord also appears in "California Dreamin'" from ‘60s folk quartet the Mamas and the Papas. Fast-forward to the 1990s and Lilith Fair singer-songwriter Jewel weaves the A minor chord into two of her biggest hits, “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant For Me.”
The A minor chord’s legacy as a staple of emotionally turbulent folk tunes is alive and well today. Guitarists can hear it in “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice, Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” and “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers.
The A minor chord isn’t all doom and gloom, however. It provides a punchy contrast in up-tempo pop songs like “Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd and “California Girls” by The Beach Boys. It also serves up a sexy edge to songs like TLC’s “Creep,” Peggy Lee’s classic, “Fever”, and John Legend’s “All of Me.”
While the chord shows its versatility in faster-tempoed pop songs, it still lends an introspective edge to pieces like U2’s “With Or Without You,” “The Scientist” by Coldplay and Phosphorescent’s “Song For Zula.”
No genre embodies grit, tears, and triumph more than country (except for maybe the blues). So, it’s no surprise to hear the A minor chord pop up in country classics like “A Broken Wing” by Martina McBride and “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” by Dwight Yoakam.
Modern country makes good use of the Am chord in songs like Lucinda Williams’ weathered “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and Montgomery Gentry’s “Tattoos & Scars.”
Remember what we said earlier about the genre-spanning power of grit, tears and triumph in music? Well, the blues has all of that and then some. The Am chord works its way into soulful takes like “Aint No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and the legendary Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.”
For more outstanding examples of the A minor chord in action, listen to Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” (which gives guitarists a snappy answer to “how are you doing today?”) and Robert Cray’s blistering “Smoking Gun.”
Practice and repetition can help your fingers find the right position to play an A minor chord and make a smooth transition to other chords in songs you’re learning. Try playing songs from different genres with the Am chord to hear its versatility and familiarize yourself with its distinct sound.
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