If you’re looking for moody melancholy chords to spice up your chord progressions, look no further than your F minor guitar chord, or just “Fm” for short. Slipping in minor chords such as this can be an excellent way of helping convey more emotion within a chord progression, like telling a story. As you read on, we’ll cover how this chord functions, how to play it, and how you can fit it into your own chord progressions. Curious? Let’s dive in!
How to Play the Fm Chord
The really cool thing about the guitar, compared to the piano, for instance, is the number of ways you can play the same chord. We’re not talking about inversions here, but rather, variations, which are slightly different.
So, what are variations and why play them?
Firstly, chord variations can mean one of two things: The type of chord (major, minor, diminished.. etc.), or a completely different way of playing the same chord. In this case, we’re talking about the latter, which are the different ways of playing the F minor chord. You may choose to play a chord variation for a few different reasons. First, it may be because it fits better with the other chords within the chord progression. Why play a chord on the 7th fret while the rest are near the open note position? Second, it may come down to your playing ability, as some chords are easier to play than others. Third, it might come down to the particular voicing of the individual notes within the chord, which may sound better! Finally, it may just come down to personal preference. We all have our favorite chords, and there are really no right or wrong answers here.
So let’s run through some of our different variations:
Fm guitar chord diagram from the open note position.
Fm guitar chord diagram from the fourth fret position.
Fm guitar chord diagram from the eighth fret position.
Trouble With Chord Charts?
If you’re new to chord charts, it might be a little overwhelming to look at, at first glance. However, it’s actually easier to learn than it might appear! Let’s first bring our attention to the big rectangular box, housing a bunch of horizontal and vertical lines. This represents our fretboard. Each vertical line represents a different string on the guitar. From left to right we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings. Each horizontal line, however, is what separates one fret from the next.
On some of the frets, you may notice a circle containing a number anywhere from 1 – 4. These numbers help us figure out where our fingers are to be placed on the fretboard to complete our chord. The number 1 is for our index finger. The number 2 is for our middle finger. The number 3 is for our ring finger. Finally, the number 4 is for our pinky finger. In some cases, however, you may notice two numbers with a long bar stretching across. This indicates you’re to form a “barre”. To form a barre, you’re to drape your index finger over a grouping of strings along an individual fret and apply pressure. It isn’t easy at first but given time and practice, you’ll be able to play these a lot easier.
On top of our fretboard, depending on the chord, you might see an “O” or an “X”. An “O” indicates you’re to play an open note (a string to be played but not fretted). An “X” indicates that you’re to not play this string to complete the chord. Off to the left, there may be a number present. The number indicates our starting fret for playing our chord. If, however, there is no number present, then that typically implies that we’re starting from the open note position. That’s all there is to it!
A Note About Inversions
As you may know, inversions involve changing the sequence of the voicings within a chord. For instance, if we take our C major triad, we have the notes in sequence C, E, and G; this is known as the root position. Moving to our first inversion, we now have the sequence of notes E, G, and C forming our triad. Moving to our second inversion, we get the notes, G, C, and E. Utilizing chord inversions can be an excellent way of adding more character, and movement to a chord progression without completely changing the chord. It doesn’t stop there, however. With 7th chords you have three inversions, 9th chords contain four inversions… and so on.
The main takeaways are that an inverted chord changes the sequence of notes to whichever one becomes the base note with the rest following suit. A chord variation will always contain the same notes, but, won’t follow a specific sequence.
Breakdown of the Fm chord
Now that we know how to play our F minor chord and a couple of its variations, what makes it work? To better understand our chord, it’s important we know about a few things: its key signature, scale, and its triad.
We’ll begin by going over our key. The key can be thought of as the collection of pitches that we would find within our scale. These notes are then used as the foundation for a song or piece of music. How do we know what notes these are? That’s where our key signature comes into play.
Every key contains its own key signature. Oftentimes you can see the key signature following the clef on a piece of sheet music, represented by sharps (#) or flats (b). These markings help define the pitches within a particular key. For instance, when a note is marked sharp (#) within the key signature, then that means the note is to be raised by a semitone. When a note is marked flat (b) within a key signature, it’s to be lowered by a semitone. So, how can we figure out what notes are sharp or flat within a particular key? This is when it can help to refer to the circle of fifths.
A diagram of the circle of fifths, displaying all of the most commonly used key signatures.
The circle of fifths is a wheel-shaped diagram that shows us all of the most commonly used keys and their corresponding key signatures. The outer ring shows us all of our major keys, while the inner ring shows us all of our relative minor keys (keys that have a different root note, but share the same key signature). Starting from C major, going clockwise around the wheel, you’ll notice that every key will gain an additional sharp to its key signature. On the other end of the spectrum, going counterclockwise from C major, every key gains an additional flat to its key signature. For this topic, however, we’ll stick to the left half of the wheel, containing all of our flats.
If we know how many flats our key has, how do we figure out which notes these are? We use a simple acronym: BEADGCF. This stands for:
“Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles’, Father”
Each word represents a different note that gains a flat in sequence. Here is how the sequence appears as you go counterclockwise around the wheel:
a = No sharps or flats.
d = Bb
g = Bb, Eb
c = Bb, Eb, Ab
f = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db
bb = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb
eb = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb
ab = Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb
If you can remember how many flats each key has, as well as this saying, then it gets much easier to figure out the different key signatures. For instance, if we know g minor has two flats, using our acronym, using our fingers we’d go “Battle, Ends…” therefore, the two flats in the key of g minor are Bb, and Eb. If we knew that the key of eb minor has six flats, using our fingers again we’d go “Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles’…” therefore, the six flats in the key of eb minor are Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb. Using this same method once more, we can deduce that the key of F minor has four flats, which are Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db.
If you are more used to handling keys containing sharps and don’t know how many flats are in the keys to the left half of the circle of fifths, there’s a helpful method to figure it out. You only need to remember the number 7. For instance, if we know that C# minor has four sharps, how many flats should C minor have? The answer is three flats. When you add 4 + 3 you get 7. Let’s try it again with D# minor, containing six sharps. How many flats would D minor have? The answer is one flat. When you add 6 + 1 you get 7. Using the acronym from before, you can then figure out what notes are flat in the key. Easy as that!
Moving on to our scale, let’s see how it looks in the key of F minor:
F > G > Ab > Bb > C > Db > Eb > F
Did you know, however, that minor scales follow a strict pattern of tones (T) and semitones (S) that give their scales their signature melancholy sound? Here is that sequence:
T > S > T > T > S > T > T
As you can see, G > Ab are a semitone apart, and B becomes Bb to keep the spacing of a tone away from Ab and C. The same occurs with Db moving closer to C, and Eb maintaining the tone spacing away from Db and F.
Let’s try playing our F minor scale:
Guitar tablature of the F minor scale, ascending and descending
Trouble With Tablature?
Tablature otherwise known as “tab” for short, is an excellent means for guitarists without a musical background to write, share and learn some of their favorite songs and exercises. Getting right into it, we’ll bring our attention to the six horizontal lines before you; each of these represents a different string on the guitar. From the bottom to the top, we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings. On these lines, you will see numbers that represent which fret is to be played on the corresponding string. If you see the number 1 on the low E string, then that means you must play the first fret of the low E string. If you see the number 4 on the B string, then that means you must play the fourth fret of the B string, and so on. If you see the number 0 on any string, however, this implies you’re to play an open note on the corresponding string (a string to be played but not fretted). That’s all there is to it!
Tablature can be a great way to get started with guitar, and a gateway to learning more about music in general. However, with tab, due to its simplified nature, it does come with a minor drawback when compared to its more detailed cousin, musical notation. The drawback is the detail of how things are meant to be played in a particular song. This is not to say that all tabs are lacking in detail, however, the detail provided varies from tab to tab. Sometimes it falls on the shoulders of you the guitarist to fill in the gaps using your ear. However, there are some understood symbols used for tablature, which may be included depending on the tab:
H = Hammer-on
P = Pull-off
B = Bend
X = Mute
PM = Palm Mute
\ = Slide Down
/ = Slide Up
~~~ = Vibrato
Lastly, for self-taught guitarists using tab, or even sheet music, it’s important to exercise good playing habits. The habit we’re talking about in particular is good fingerwork. Most often, tabs and sheet music won’t provide you with the information on where to place your fingers, as it’s generally implied you know where they should go. Good fingerwork is essential to maintain a steady flow when playing, as well as cleaning up your playing technique. A good practice is to read ahead of what you’re about to play and plan for where your hand and fingers would be best placed. It’s important to keep the notes within the space of your hand and maintain that shape with a loose enough grip to move around if/when needed. If this is a challenge, making the most of spider exercises can be a great way to improve and clean up your technique.
Within our F minor scale, every note plays an important role in how it can be used to change the flow of a song. These notes within can be thought of as scale degrees. Each degree of our scale is given a unique identifier to help musicians refer back to them. Here is how our F minor scale appears:
f = Tonic (1st Degree)
g = Supertonic (2nd Degree)
ab = Mediant (3rd Degree)
bb = Subdominant (4th Degree)
c = Dominant (5th Degree)
db = Submediant (6th Degree)
eb = Leading Tone (7th Degree)
f = Tonic (1st Degree/Octave)
Let’s go over each of these degrees in minor detail. Our first degree, the tonic, is our tonal center. Things sound calm as this is our root, and where things tend to resolve. Taking a step up, we’re on the second degree, the supertonic. The supertonic is an excellent substitution for our fourth degree, as they share two of the same notes within their triads. Next, our third degree, the mediant is a great degree for drawing out the tonic as they share two of the same notes. The fourth degree, the subdominant is a tension-building chord, sharing but one note with our tonic triad, F. Next is our second most important degree to our tonic, the dominant, where tension is at its peak. Oftentimes, you’ll see a progression hit the dominant and then resolve home to the tonic. Our sixth degree, the submediant, shares two notes with our subdominant, making it excellent for acting as a weak predominant chord. Finally, we’re at our leading tone. This degree is important for building our seventh chords but also acts as another tension building degree. Try playing the C major scale and ending on B; your ears will naturally want to hear it resolve to C. Next, we’re back at the tonic, a whole octave higher from where we began.
Now that we have our key signature, scale, and scale degrees figured out, let’s talk about the F minor triad. To build a minor triad, we need to take our tonic, mediant, and dominant degrees of our minor scale (1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees) and stack them on top of each other. Therefore this gives us the notes: F, Ab, and C.
There are specific intervals within a minor triad that give our minor triad its melancholy sound:
- Minor 3rd – Between the 1st and 3rd degrees. F > Ab.
- Major 3rd – Between the 3rd and 5th degrees. Ab > C.
- Perfect 5th – Between the 1st and 5th degrees. F > C.
We now have our F minor chord.
Finding Chords Compatible With Fm
Making chord progressions can be a challenge, let alone making ones that we like. Thankfully, there’s a process for making this task a little easier! It involves the use of building triads on every degree of our scale. Let’s have a look:
F Minor – F, Ab, C (Tonic/1st Degree)
G Diminished – G, Bb, Db (Supertonic/2nd Degree)
Ab Major – Ab, C, Eb (Mediant/3rd Degree)
Bb Minor – Bb, Db, F (Subdominant/4th Degree)
C Minor – C, Eb, G (Dominant/5th Degree)
Db Major – Db, F, Ab (Submediant/6th Degree)
Eb Major – Eb, G, Bb (Leading Tone/7th Degree)
Now that we have our triads, using everything we know about the various scale degrees we can start building our own chord progressions! However, if you have no idea where to start, it may help to refer to some “tried and true” chord progressions.
i – iv – v
This three-chord progression is one of the more commonly used ones, starting on our tonal center, the tonic, F minor. From here we will shift to our subdominant, Bb minor, adding some tension. Shifting even more away with greater tension, we hit our peak, the dominant, C minor. Finally, we return back home to our tonic F minor, doing it all again.
Our chord progression is F minor > Bb minor > C minor.
i – VI – VII
Our second three-chord progression also starts on the tonic, F minor. From here, however, we’ll instead move to our sixth degree, the submediant Db major. The submediant is much like our subdominant, in that they share two notes in their triads, making it an excellent tension-building chord. Next, we will move to our leading tone, Eb major, acting as the peak of our tension. Our ears really want to hear things resolve, and know what comes next – we go back home to our tonic F minor, to do it all again.
Our chord progression is F minor > Db minor > Eb major.
i – VI – III – VII
Now, for a four-chord progression, starting yet again on the tonic, F minor. From here, we’ll move yet again to our submediant Db major. This degree acts as a “weak predominant chord”, building some mild tension. Now, we’ll move to Ab Major, sharing two notes with our tonic, this relieves some tension and draws things out a little. Next, we’ll move to our leading tone, Eb major, at the peak of our tension. Naturally, things want to resolve back to the tonic, so we return to F minor to do it all again.
Our chord progression is F minor > Db minor > Ab Major > Eb major.
Now you have everything you need to get started with the F minor chord. Learning chords can be an excellent way to get out of “writer’s block”, or to simply spice up your practice sessions. You might even choose to practice some inversions of the F minor triad, which can help you learn the fretboard. However, if you really want to see the fretboard in a new light, it’s recommended you look into the CAGED system! Where will your practice take you? How will you make the most of the F minor chord? As long as you’re having fun, you can’t go wrong. Keep on rockin’.