This is not about "identifiying a chord". The chord is already identified. This is about how a chord can be replaced with another, changing the flavor of a song.

I have played the rythm guitar on an amateur band and we performed "Sweet child o'mine" from time to time.

One point of debate inside the band, was the fourth chord in the main solo (Emin/Cmaj/Bmaj7/Amin). I'll not ask "what is the chord??" But take the following as background:

The most musically studied guy in our band, was the bassist. According to his theory, it has to be a minor. More or less on the same line of the following analysis: https://www.guitarmusictheory.com/sweet-child-o-mine-guitar-solos/

Lot of basic tutorials also consider this chord to be a minor (Justin Guitar to mention one)

I have seen a lot of partitures for this song. Some captures of the discussed part:

Start of main solo

So, according to "some" theory, it is a minor. Period.

But despite all the previous theory, my ear is liying me and telling it is a major. Well, it is a power chord for most of the time. Why my ear is filling it with the major third?

I have also analyse some of the solo fragments of that beat in partitures. It mostly avoids the 3rd interval, but it plays the minor in very quick parts.


Seems like D chord transposed to the 7th freet.

The following tutorial also uses A major:

(around 15:02)

My question is not to ask for the "real" chord here. It is more or less clear that it will work with major or minor.

I want to understand, instead, what is the theory, if any, that could explain that the rythm plays major third but the solo uses the minor?

For me, when we use Amaj, the solo has a bluesly flavor. When we use Amin, the solo has an arabesque flavor. Can be that an acceptable explanation?

And sorry for the lengthy introduction. I just tried to put all the possible data.

  • 2
    I think the introduction to the question is a bit lengthy (thought not uninteresting to me) and it looks like you're preparing the question "is it major or minor?" I'll throw my opinion in the ring... rhythm guitar is playing a minor chord here. But the actual question at the very end is a bit different. Are you really asking "why does this work?"
    – Edward
    Jun 27, 2021 at 2:38
  • 1
    I vtc this, as there's a community specific reason to close. Although it's an interesting question! I hear A minor, although it'd be quite easy to leave the major shape while playing the C B then... Theoretically, there's no compelling reason to use one over the other, and the simple solution would be to only use power chords! No arguments then.
    – Tim
    Jun 27, 2021 at 8:03

2 Answers 2


Anyway, in the Blues tradition, parallel minor mode notes are used against major triads. That's how it is. For instance, a tune using A, D, E chords supports soloing using A minor pentatonic as well as A major pentatonic, as well as various ways of shifting between the two.

The superimposition of the minor pentatonic, major pentatonic and tritone (relative to the root) is known as the Blues scale.

There are situations in which the major-based intervals don't work that well against minor chords. A Blues tune using Am, Dm, E7 doesn't support A major pentatonic improvisation quite as well as vice versa: how well as A7, D7, E7 supports A minor pentatonic.

Now in this solo, firstly, everything is played half a step relative to the notation. Let's stick with how it's notated, though.

The solo is in E minor, and is using elements oftt minor, with the C, B7 dominant and the use of related notes in the solo.

Then in the next section, where the A-something chord in question occurs, the solo is not implicating any minor third against the A root at that point. It's not using the C#. Your tablature shows a bend down toward the 15th fret D. (What I'm hearing in the actual recording is that it's not actually a full bend; it's more than a semitone, but less than a full tone. I slowed it down to 0.25 and repeated it a few times while playing the same thing, just to be sure.)

An A major chord at this spot would possibly implicate a shift into the E Dorian.

But D note which is the target of the bend, occurs in both the E natural minor (and the E minor pentatonic), and it occurs in E Dorian.

So in the case of that section of that solo, that is the simplest explanation why either an Am or A chord could work. They scales implicated by these choices both include the D.

For what it's worth, I seem to be hearing an Am chord. There are multiple rhythm tracks overlaid, and two strums are heard. The first strum is emphasizing the root and fifth, and then the second strum chimes in the higher notes. I seem to hear the second strum as minor, particularly if I listen to just the right channel.

I have another hypothesis why someone might like an A chord there. In addition to that being compatible with Blues-based soloing using notes from E Dorian, that chord would also be compatible with the melodic E minor. Some of the preceding melody is such that your ear may be gravitating toward an expectation of a melodic minor improvisation. The key note which distinguishes harmonic from melodic, or natural from Dorian, is avoided, leaving that ambiguity.

When you're listening to a minor key melody which uses the leading tone against a V7 chord and all that, but avoids the sixth degree (so there is a harmonic/melodic ambiguity) you can hear melodic into it.

  • Woah! A lot of thanks for taking your time to explain a lot of useful concepts. You also replayed that part to get to more conclussions. I can only appreciate that!
    – zameb
    Jun 28, 2021 at 23:13
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    @zameb I just made an edit about melodic minor, which could be useful.
    – Kaz
    Jun 28, 2021 at 23:30

A minor third played against a major chord is called a "blue" note. The same thing can be done with the fifth as well.

Both are idiomatic to blues, jazz, and pop/rock.

  • 'The same thing can be done against the fifth as well' - not clear - as there's no major or minor fifth ! 'The tritone (d5/a4) from root is used in blues' (as well as P4 and P5) may be clearer.
    – Tim
    Jun 29, 2021 at 11:43

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