I came across some postings discussing whether different minor keys produce different moods, but i have not found one that compares different minor chords.

As each minor chord has a different sound, do different minor chords convey different nuances or feelings? (eg. Does vi minor produce a different nuance compared to iv minor).

Edit: While this "nuance" issue might be potentially subjective, perhaps there is some general understanding or concept to some extent.

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    I'm not going to answer this one for a very simple reason: what I found out about this works for me, for my reasons. I'm very much a contrapuntist, and I use a lot of secondary degrees to make my counterpoint work. If you aspire to become a composer, you're going to do a lot of experimentation in matters like this to find out what works for you for your reasons. This is something where there is no definitive answer because people can and will use the same progressions to very different effect.
    – user16935
    Jan 30, 2015 at 7:27
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    To clarify a bit: in one composer's hands, a different predominant may make a difference; in the hands of another, it may not because other factors (motifs, rhythm, voice leading) are too similar to make the change stand out; and in a third's work, it may vary from work to work. That's why I suggest trying it for yourself.
    – user16935
    Jan 30, 2015 at 7:37

3 Answers 3


I would say it depends much more on the progression then the actual function of each chord.

For example, vi to V in isolation would sound nearly identical to ii to I as the same type of movement is used in the chords and in fact in different keys they may be the same chords. However in a I-ii-V or a I-vi-V progression the function in the key is clearer and the two progressions give a different overall sound sandwiched between the two chords.

Function itself can be altered by modulation, secondary dominance, and modal borrowing. Any of those above can really change the context of the chords. For example the vi chord can be used to pivot to the dominant key where it functions as a ii chord. So in the context of one chord it is both ii and vi at the same time as seen below.

enter image description here

  • Thanks @Dom, so i could conclude that the interval between one chord and the next is as important as the chord itself.. is this right?
    – mey
    Jan 30, 2015 at 10:50
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    @mey yes. In fact the concept of a key itself is heavily defined by intervals so anything derived from it intervals will be important.
    – Dom
    Jan 30, 2015 at 10:53
  • @Dom I find the information in your answer helpful. To be sure I understand correctly - when you say "the vi chord can be used to pivot to the DOMINANT KEY ... " do you mean the key that corresponds to the dominant chord in the key you are currently in (and pivoting from)? That's my interpretation but just want to be sure I'm not missing the point. Thanks. Jan 31, 2015 at 15:55
  • @RockinCowboy See picture in post that was just added. It is easier to look at then explain.
    – Dom
    Jan 31, 2015 at 17:16

That depends totally on the listener.

Many musicians can tell chords apart by their absolute frequency. Some of them strongly associate different emotions or impressions with specific chords, others don't.

Many other people cannot different minor chords apart, but they can tell major from minor. Again, some of them react strongly to minor vs. major chords, others don't have any particular reaction beyond "Oh yeah, this is minor, isn't it."

And of course, may people cannot tell a consonance from a dissonance at all and may react to loudness, instrumentation, beat etc. instead.

To make things more complicated, it is altogether possible to have different reactions to different stimuli without being able to consciously distinguish them (e.g. in an exam). That applies to music just as well as other sensations.

That said, the question whether different key have inherent characteristics, and which ones, has a long, disputed and fascinating history. Here is some info from wikipedia:



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    Depends on more than the listener, I think. To make a passage suggest something different from a parallel passage takes a confluence of harmony, lines and rhythm, and that is within the composer's control. In some cases, the composer can choose to expose the change in predominant; in other cases, the change may come about because one voice had to change to accommodate a transition from a different preceding phrase, so the effect won't be particularly noticeable.
    – user16935
    Jan 30, 2015 at 7:51
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    Another thought is that the effect is not absolute or Boolean (yes or no) it is perhaps a matter of degree where some will hear differences more strongly than others. Perhaps it influences some more than those listeners realize, and then again others less than they think. Others will perhaps listen with a different grammar, their gut understanding of musical rules being outside of main stream ears.
    – amalgamate
    Jan 30, 2015 at 14:44

I think @Dom points out the most important thing: the harmonic context of the chord.

But, another factor I think you can consider is the inversion of the chord. Root-position ii sounds different than ii6 (1st inversion, third of chord in the bass.) At the risk of over simplifying, root position minor chords can covey fear, rage, etc. while first inversion minor chords can feel more transitory, indecisive, etc. Obviously, many different moods can be created with either inversion, but be aware of inversion as a resource to exploit.

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