How to Play Minor Chords on Dobro

minor chords on dobro

Minor chords differ from their major cousins in that the third note of each note has been flattened, giving it its unique minor sound.

Dobro instruments feature two open strings, providing the root and flat third to create two note minor chords up and down the neck. This enables players to easily play two note chords up and down their instrument’s neck.

Open G Tuning

Open G tunings with capo on the third fret make it easier to play minor chords using movable bar shapes. Mike Auldridge, Greg Booth and Gordon Giltrap all use variations on this tuning scheme; its most commonly seen version being EBGDBGBG.

Two-note minor chords can also be easily played in open G. The second string sounds B and the first string sounds D, making it possible to form D minor chords by barrering your pointer finger of your fretting hand on any number of frets starting at the low G string and barrering one finger at any time on any number of frets until reaching any one string containing D notes.

Blues musicians, particularly slide guitarists, employ open G tuning often for its rich sound. Robert Johnson was known to use this tuning often on tracks he recorded such as Son House’s Walkin’ Blues from 1930; his slide-filled approach paid a nod to House while giving it new life that has still been widely heard today. Furthermore, this open tuning allows guitar players to experiment with chord shapes and voicings that might otherwise not be accessible under traditional tuning conditions.

Two-Note Minor Chords

As the first step toward developing a deeper sound on your dobro, learning two-note minor chords is an essential first step. Mike provides this lesson on playing Josh Graves breaks for “Shuckin’ the Corn.”

Minor chords might seem less important, but they play an essential part of any composition. Their darker sound complements other notes and chords on the fretboard and provides contrast for them to shine against.

One way of recognizing major and minor chords is using Nashville numbering (cheater’s rule) to identify their 1, 3, and 5-note components. For example, to quickly locate the root note of a G major chord simply play its scale starting on any string and moving up by three frets: G, B, D.

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Passive Minor Chords

If you don’t have much time or want a safe solution when it comes to finding your major and minor tonalities, another method can help: Pick just the root note and flat third of a minor chord for an audibly minor sound – for instance a G minor chord has notes G, B flat, and D; you could play this chord open on string two with your bar; alternatively bar across all strings except one to get this effect.

At any of the 1, 4, or 5 chords, this technique works seamlessly. Simply pick the root with your index finger while your ring finger plays the octave – perfect for songs that express passion, longing or solemnity – also used frequently in folk and country music. A recent study recorded brain responses of musicians and nonmusicians alike when listening passively to different chords through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both groups displayed similar neural responses during passive listening but not when actively memorizing chords.

Major Chords

Music can be broken into major and minor keys. Each major key has an associated minor chord that sounds similar to it but with one note flattened (or dropped a half step).

For an explanation, examine a complete interval table. Each note in it is identical, except that the third interval – which corresponds with A major chord’s second interval – has been flattened (lowered) by half step to create its minor sound.

Rehearsal on scales will pay dividends here; often just dropping the root note and using other notes will suffice to form chords based on other instruments and context. That way you can play major chords without giving listeners whiplash! *Technically two notes make a chord; however this approach provides a useful method for creating simple minor chord patterns which should work well in most circumstances.