The C minor chord is a less commonly known chord when first learning to play guitar. You may have also seen it written as Cm or C min on sheet music.
If you look up how to play a C minor chord, this might come up as a barre chord on the third fret, starting on the 5th string. Although this can be quite a difficult chord for a beginner, there are many different ways you can play this chord on the guitar. This chord doesn’t have to be as hard as you may think.
By learning different chord variations for C minor, you’ll be able to play it throughout the fretboard depending on the musical context.
We’ll first go over some basic chord theory and then cover 11 ways to play a C minor chord which you can start to incorporate into your playing.
Lets’s get started.
C minor chord theory intro
Minor triad chords are built on the chord tones 1, b3, and 5. These chord tones can also be thought of as the scale degrees related to one minor scale.
For example, the C minor chord has the chord tones C, Eb, and G.
Here is the formula for minor chords below.
In contrast, Major triad chords contain the chord tones 1, 3, and 5. For example, a C Major chord would contain the chord tones C, E, and G. However, we will only be covering the different minor chord variations in this post.
Now that you know what notes belong to the chord structure, let’s look at how to read the chord charts.
How to read the chord charts
The top horizontal line of the chord chart represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string. The vertical lines separate each fret. The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand.
The letters on the right of the charts tell you what notes you are playing on each string.
You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.
C minor triad
A simple way you can play a C minor chord is by playing the following triad shape.
C minor triad including pinky
You can also add your pinky finger to the previous shape to make the chord sound fuller like this:
C minor chord on the 5th string (without a barre)
Similar to the previous shape, this time we are adding the first finger on the 5th string, 3rd fret. We’re gradually building upon the previous chords before we get to barre chords. The shape looks like this:
C minor chord barre on the 5th string
This is probably the most common chord shape that will show up when looking up a C minor chord. This shape comes from the open A minor chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 3rd fret with your 1st finger.
If you can’t get the note on the 1st string to sound clear, you can play this chord without the barre and only play the notes from the 5th to the 2nd string (as shown in the previous chart). Then, you can come back to this chord shape as you develop more strength in your fretting hand.
Tip* If this chord is still difficult to play, start the shape higher up on the fretboard. The tension of the strings is lighter as you press down on chords higher up the fretboard. Then you can gradually shift the shape down as you develop more strength in your hand.
If needed, check out these 5 tips to get better at playing barre chords on guitar.
C minor mini barre chord, starting on the 4th string
Another way you can play this chord is by using a mini barre or half barre on the 8th fret. If some notes are unclear, you could first try playing the barre on the top strings with your 1st finger and then try it again after placing your third finger on the 4th string.
The shape looks like this:
C minor mini barre chord, G in the bass (C min/G)
Technically, this chord can be called an C minor chord in 2nd inversion. This means that the 5th degree of the chord is in the bass. This makes the chord sound fuller compared to the last chord we looked at. You can play it like this:
You can also check out this other post for more on how to play chord inversions on the guitar.
C minor barre chord on the 6th string
At this point, we’ve worked on different steps to take before getting to this chord because it requires more strength in your fretting hand.
This shape comes from the open E minor chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 7th fret with your 1st finger like this:
C minor chord on the 4th string
This shape comes from the open D minor chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you add your 1st finger. This shape can feel uncomfortable when first learning it but you will get better at it as you keep reviewing it.
C minor chord spread shapes
The following chords are called spread shapes because of the wider space between some of the notes within the chord shape. Because these chord shapes skip a string, they are more suitable for a finger picking style of playing. You might also hear these chords in a more classical music context.
To go more in-depth, check out this post on how to play spread triad chords on guitar.
C minor spread chord on the 6th string
C minor spread chord on the 5th string
C spread chord on the 4th string
All these chords were mostly in root position, meaning the root note is in the bass. However, you certainly have more variations if you use different chord inversions. This is when you play a chord with notes other than the root.
It’s good to know many possibilities of playing the same chord because you have more flexibility to move around the fretboard. Also, you can use different chord variations when you need a certain note at the top to help define a melody that you are playing over.
I hope this helped you to broaden your understanding of how to play a C minor guitar chord and also how you can apply these shapes to other chords.
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All the best,