24 Popular Songs in Minor Keys (with Tabs and Videos)

As music lovers, we’ve all heard the old thumb rule to check whether a song is in a major or minor key – “if it sounds happy, it’s in a major key and if it sounds sad, that’s a minor key”. Well, buckle up, because you’re in for a surprise.

Mick Jagger Playing One of the Most Popular Songs in Minor Key
Photo by Marco Rosanova

There are breakup songs like Adele’s “Someone Like You” that’s written in A major while Oasis’ upbeat campfire favorite hit “Wonderwall” that’s played in F sharp minor. And while many people think that popular songs are mostly written in the major key, you’ll be surprised to know just how many chartbusters across genres are in the minor key!

Here’s a roundup of 24 popular songs in minor keys from various genres like rock, blues, pop, funk, and folk. So let’s get started, shall we?

List of Popular Songs in Minor Keys

1. Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Alt-rock
Tabs See tabs for Californication

It’s been over 22 years since influential funk-punk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers first came out with “Californication,” a groovy feast that still sounds as fresh and zesty as it did back then. Written by frontman Anthony Kiedis, the band initially had trouble bringing it alive musically until guitarist John Frusciante just walked in one day declaring he had figured it all out. The song ended up becoming one of RHCP’s greatest hits and a live staple that never fails to get the crowd going!

When you get down to playing it, you’ll be using A minor scale that, without any flats and sharps, is perfect for beginners looking to expand their fundamentals and perfecting every note.

2. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Progressive rock
Tabs See tabs for Stairway to Heaven

A captivating tune, thought-provoking lyrics brought alive by passionate vocals, and one of the finest guitar solos ever has earned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” a permanent top spot in most rankings and best-ever lists. “Stairway to Heaven” is a carefully crafted piece that uses tempo, beat, and instrument arrangement to make its point.

Like a sonic staircase, it starts out slow with an arpeggiated, fingerpicked intro in the key of A minor. As the song progresses, more layers get added, with drums joining in, followed by guitar legend Jimmy Page’s iconic solo before ultimately ending in an uptempo hard rock section powered by Robert Plant’s signature falsetto.

When it comes to guitar, there’s a lot going on! It is, after all, a Jimmy Page song! Learning this song is a rewarding and satisfying experience that’ll have you brush up on a range of techniques from fingerpicking, arpeggiated picking, rhythmic strumming to rendering a melodic solo in the classic Page style.

3. Hotel California by Eagles

Key B minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Rock
Tabs See Tabs for Hotel California

Who hasn’t air guitared to “Hotel California’s” epic twin solo! The 2 minute and 20 seconds long sonic treat is a fantastic display of Don Felder and Joe Walsh’s guitar prowess that simply takes your breath away. Believe it or not, this spontaneous-sounding solo was not an improvised interplay but a note-for-note replication of the original instrumental demo that Felder had created! But that doesn’t take away the fact that it remains hands down the greatest guitar solo in the history of music.

The song’s written in the key of B minor but not conventionally. It dances around quite a bit as the song progresses. You’ll hear chords such as F#m, which comes from B harmonic minor, and E from B Dorian. But since the verses are in B natural minor, you could say it is centered around that key.

When it comes to fortifying your barre chords skill, B minor is the most ideal. But if you are not yet comfortable with barre chords, take the chords a whole step down to A minor and slap a capo on the second fret to play it along with the original. The use of minor-key, together with its cryptic lyrics and the killer solos, make “Hotel California” an enigmatic rock classic that’s been winning hearts for over four decades!

4. Heart of Gold by Neil Young

Key E Minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Folk rock
Tabs See tabs for Heart of Gold

While recuperating from a back injury, Neil Young put together a repertoire of soft acoustic-driven-harmonica-infused gems, which were a departure from his usual electric fare. It was during this phase he conceived “Heart of Gold,” a song that catapulted his reach and turned him into an international star.

Besides being a timeless classic that’s inspired many amazing covers, “Heart of Gold” is a great song for any aspiring guitarist, regardless of skill level, to add to his vault. Young plays “Heart of Gold” in the key of E minor and sticks mainly to open chords, making it quite accessible to beginners. More proficient players can add in dynamics just the way Young does in the original.

5. All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix

Key C minor
Tuning Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb (E-flat tuning)
Genre Rock
Tabs See tabs for All Along the Watchtower (In Standard Tuning)

Originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower” did not see much success before Jimi Hendrix came along. The guitar giant took the original understated acoustic piece and turned it into an electric marvel teeming with amazing solos and jaw-dropping licks.

Released six months after Dylan’s original, Hendrix’s rendition became a thumping success and his highest-ranking American single. It was ranked number 48 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is widely regarded as one of the best covers ever. While Dylan wrote his original in the key of A minor, Hendrix’s went with C minor to play his version.

6. Wonderwall by Oasis

Key F sharp minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Britpop
Tabs See tabs for Wonderwall

A campfire favorite since in the mid-’90s and for a good reason! “Wonderwall” by Oasis is undeniably groovy, beginner-friendly with an incredibly high sing-along quotient. The single’s chart run was pretty impressive, to say the least! It swiftly grabbed the top spot on the Modern Rock Tracks and stayed put for ten straight weeks!

The song is in the key of F sharp minor, but it does seem to swing between F#m and A major if you listen to the recording closely. To play it in the easiest and most fuss-free way, you’ll need Em, G, D, A7sus4 with the addition of a C chord in the pre-chorus. You’ll also need to place a capo on the 2nd fret to make it sound closer to the original. The 16th strum pattern can get fast, so you’ll have to set aside some time to work on getting it right. I really enjoy playing this song and it’s easily one of the most popular songs in minor keys.

7. Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Soul, Blues, R&B
Tabs See tabs for Ain’t No Sunshine

Built off the tender and soothing A minor key, Bill Withers’ “Aint No Sunshine” is an immersive experience for the listeners. A simple bluesy melody paired with beautiful vocals, heartfelt lyrics, and an interesting “I Know” loop that almost always evokes a collective crooning response from the crowd. It seems Bill Withers had kept the loop as a filler to add in more lyrics later on but was nudged by other musicians to let it remain that way. Since its release in Withers’ 1971 album, this song has become a live staple covered by many in a range of styles.

Playing-wise, this Grammy-winning single is perfect for those who want to work on minor chords. Most of the song uses Am, Em, and Dm chords and gives you plenty of practice in chord changes and timing the beat. You can always add in more flair using some suspended chords and other complex arrangements along the way.

8. House of the Rising Sun by Animals

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Folk rock
Tabs See tabs for House of the Rising Sun

In 1964, British rock band The Animals decided to do something unusual. They took a 19th-century folk staple and turned it into a chart-topping folk-rock song! The gritty song with hidden depths is a tale of caution about a man whose life had gone downhill in New Orleans. Like most folk songs, no one knows who wrote the original, but it ended up becoming pretty popular among the American mining community.

Though Animals’ recording became hugely popular, they were not the first ones to take this folk ballad mainstream. Woodie Guthrie, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan had already released their versions by then. While on tour with Chuck Berry, frontman Eric Burdon heard it at a club in Newcastle, England, and decided to cover it. The song was recorded in one-take, kicking off with the iconic A minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine on his electric guitar before Burdon’s soulful vocals take over.

9. Black Magic Woman by Santana

Key D minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Blues-rock, Latin rock
Tabs See tabs for Black Magic Woman

This Fleetwood Mac blues-rock original was taken by Santana and turned into an infectious Latin-infused marvel that conquered the charts and made them a household name. While retaining much of the original’s bluesy vibe, melody, and lyrics, Santana’s version had some jazz, Hungarian folk, Latin rhythm thrown into the mix.

Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” has one of the catchiest openings I have ever heard! A guitar intro followed by a terrific solo, all of which is inspired by Gábor István Szabó’s “Gypsy Queen.” “Black Magic Woman” uses D minor, a scale that’s also called the “heartbreak key” for its ability to add strong emotions, usually melancholy, to a song.

10. Angie by The Rolling Stones

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Soft rock, glam rock
Tabs See tabs for Angie

It didn’t take this Rolling Stones’ acoustic-driven breakup ballad very long to conquer the charts. Released in 1973, “Angie” swiftly grabbed the top spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 as well as several charts across the globe.

Although credited to both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this song was almost entirely composed by Richards at a Swiss Rehab facility after regaining strength in his fingers enough to start strumming again. He built it around the key of A minor, a perfect scale to craft a song that was intended to be calmer and tender than Stones’ high decibel style.

In the most simplified form, you’ll only need to strum few simple chords- Am, E, G, F, and C to play the song. But those who are keen on reproducing a more accurate rendition- it’ll take a fair bit of work in getting the timing, strumming, and picking patterns right to emulate “Angie’s” fine melody lines, trilling riffs, and that iconic intro acoustic solo.

11. Chop Suey! by System of a Down

Key G minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Alternative metal, nu-metal
Tabs See tabs for Chop Suey!

By now, it must be pretty clear just how pivotal a scale is in defining a song’s emotions and overall vibe. Just as A minor is associated with tenderness and D minor with melancholy, G minor conveys a sense of discontent and resentment.

Take popular heavy metal band System of a Down’s biggest hit, “Chopsuey!” for example. From the word go, this song is all about angst and mayhem. Galloping power chord riffs on down-tuned guitars, fiery vocals, and controversial vocals lyrics built around the key of G minor are the driving force behind this insanely popular and edgy track. The fact that it is only the second metal song after Linkin Park’s “In the End” to cross a billion views on YouTube just goes on to show “Chop Suey’s!” strong reach and influence 20 years on from its release.

12. Things We Said Today by The Beatles

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Rock
Tabs See tabs for Things We Said Today

This B-side wonder from the Beatles chart-topping album “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by Paul McCartney while holidaying on a yacht with his then-girlfriend, Jane Asher. “Things We Said Today’s” deeply personal lyrics exhibit “future nostalgia,” with McCartney acknowledging his relationship with Asher would eventually fall apart, and they’ll remember the things they said today.

While the song is centered around the natural minor key of A, McCartney’s interesting combination of alternating major and minor chords swings the scale from A minor to A major. The transition flows beautifully with a change in harmony and an acoustic guitar flourish. To me, this song is a brilliantly complex ride of emotions that deserved more love and appreciation than it got.

13. Snuff by The Slipknot

Key F sharp minor
Tuning C# F# B E G# C#
Genre Alt-rock
Tabs See tabs for Snuff

Now, it wasn’t very often you would see a Slipknot single cracking the top 10 or 20 despite their fantastic music, but this heartwrenching ballad from All Hope Is Gone album did just that! “Snuff” gave the world a taste of heavy metal royalty’s versatility, racing all the way to number 2 on Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and becoming their highest-ranked single to date.

The key of F# minor, a scale associated with gloominess and resentment, was a fitting choice to write this immensely moving ballad about a manic-depressive who is too reluctant to love. It begins with an acoustic opening with Corey Taylor’s clean, melodic vocals before shifting sonically in momentum once the whole band takes over.

Popular Related Article: Easy Country Songs to Play on Guitar

14. I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

Key B-flat minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Folk
Tabs See tabs for I See Fire

Ed Sheeran’s vast repertoire of charismatic, acoustic-based hits is testimony to his genius when it comes to crafting a tune. His 2013 single “I See Fire” is a gorgeous folk ballad written for the epic fantasy adventure film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. After hearing raving reviews from his daughter, acclaimed director Peter Jackson roped in Sheeran to write a song to be played over the closing credits.

Sheeran flew to New Zealand, watched a rough draft of the film, wrote and recorded “I See Fire” in one day flat. Captivating and haunting, the song starts gently with Sheeran’s euphonious voice and beautiful riffs in B-flat minor key. Bet you’ll love this one just as much as I did! This is one of my personal favorite minor key songs of all time.

15. Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maiden

Key E minor
Tuning A D G B E
Genre Heavy metal
Tabs See tabs for Hallowed Be Thy Name

There’s a reason many heavy metal bands favor playing in a minor key, particularly E minor. With “E” being the lowest note on a guitar, it gives off a moody vibe and is perfect for heavy chugging. If you comb through heavy metal titans Iron Maiden’s repertoire, you’ll find most of their music is built around this key.

Written in the same key of E minor, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is a seven-minute sonic feast chock-full of Murray/Smith’s brilliant dual guitar harmonies, Burr’s fluid drum work, Dickinson’s epic vocals, and Harris’ goosebumps-inducing lyrics. In short, all of the Maiden members are at their finest! No wonder it is considered not just the band’s most popular track but also one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time. And we agree!

16. Another One Bites the Dust by Queen

Key E minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Funk rock, disco
Tabs See tabs for Another One Bites the Dust

From their eighth album, The Game, this chart-topper established Queen’s crossover to R&B and funk market. Written by bassist John Deacon in E minor, “Another One Bites the Dust” is an adrenaline-pumping fare which, thanks to its anthemic vibe, is a frequent feature in sports events and movies.

Beacon’s iconic bassline, May’s groovy riffs, Freddie’s solid vocals driven by a dry-drum loop all fell into place to create this disco-funk masterpiece. For some reason, the band was a tad reluctant to release it as a single, but a backstage visit by Michael Jackson convinced them otherwise. Jackson told Freddie Mercury the track was too fantastic not to be released.

Catchy and relatable, it became a live staple for the band, so much so that the audience would often end up singing the chorus by themselves.

17. Enter Sandman by Metallica

Key E minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Heavy metal
Tabs See tabs for Enter Sandman

Metallica went mainstream with this one. As the title track from their 1991 self-titled album, “Enter Sandman” was certainly not the band’s most sonically complex song but worked wonders in shooting their popularity across the globe. It sounded more rock than their usual sound.

As the name suggests, “Enter Sandman” chronicles a child dealing with nightmares, powered by some of the catchiest riffs out of Metallica’s vault. It is also perhaps the reason why drummer Lars Ulrich called it a “one riff song” as everything from progression to the chords came out of a rather ominous-sounding riff that Kirk Hammett wrote in the key of E minor.

The song may be one of their simpler tracks, but it has some really tricky bits in it. If you fancy a challenge, we’ve linked tabs above to get you started. Have fun!

Popular Related Article: Easy Love Songs to Play on Guitar

18. Beat It by Michael Jackson

Key E-flat minor
Tuning Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
Genre Hard rock, dance-rock
Tabs See tabs for Beat It

After conquering the world with chart-shattering singles like “The Girl is Mine’ and “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson stunned his fans with something different- a catchy rocker! With elements of arena rock and foot-tapping pop, “Beat It” elevated Jackson’s sound to a whole new level, cementing his image as a global superstar. The song also happened to feature one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, courtesy of Eddie Van Halen.

The King of Pop had a penchant for minor keys. For “Beat It,” he went with an E-flat minor, which also worked brilliantly for Van Halen’s mind-blowing solo and turned the song into a solid rocker!

19. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

Key F minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Grunge, alt-rock
Tabs See tabs for Smells Like Teen Spirit

If you haven’t heard Kurt Cobain’s iconic riff from “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you, my friend, have been living under a rock! It is undoubtedly Nirvana’s biggest song with the most recognizable riff in the history of rock. The power chords-fuelled riff runs in tandem with Krist Novoselic’s famous bassline and Cobain’s adrenaline-pumping vocals.

The raging success of this title track from the band’s second album Nevermind is often viewed as the point where grunge entered the mainstream. For “Smells like Teen Spirit,” the band picked the key of F minor, which is known for its distinctive lamenting-angsty vibe. And isn’t that what this song is all about!

20. Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd

Key G minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Progressive rock
Tabs See tabs for Shine on You Crazy Diamond

A somber masterpiece and my favorite Pink Floyd song, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” was written as a tribute to the founding member Syd Barett who had to leave the band due to deteriorating mental health. Spread across 26 minutes, it gave every member a chance to shine and beautifully immortalized Barett’s talent, journey, and the immeasurable influence he’s had on shaping the band’s sound.

There’s a psychedelic vibe to this song brought on by David Gilmour’s melancholic guitar arpeggio, distorted riffs, a saxophone solo, multi-tracked synths, and passionate vocals. “Most of this 26-minute long composition sticks to G natural minor (Aeolian) scale, at times incorporating hints of G Dorian mode with the E (raised sixth) note in some parts of the song.

21. The Pretender by Foo Fighters

Key A minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Hard rock
Tabs See tabs for The Pretender

According to former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl this 2008 Grammy-winning track is “a stomping Foo Fighters uptempo song, with a little bit of Chuck Berry in it.” Written in the key of A minor, “The Pretenders” begins with a stripped-down, mellow acoustic intro with a small string section before exploding into a full-blown hard rock fare, complete with powerful rhythm hooks, catchy riffs, and intense vocals.

Grohl’s allusion to Chuck Berry starts to make sense when the emotionally charged bridge comes up. It’s a Berry-style riff that turns more melodically complex along the way. Grohl acknowledged the song had a strong political undertone to it but wanted people to have their own interpretation. All in all, a true crowd-pleaser and a wonderful pick for aspiring guitarists for the range of techniques and skills it employs.

22. Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel

Key E minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Psychedelic folk
Tabs See tabs for Scarborough Fair

A medieval English ballad about jilted love, “Scarborough Fair,” has been recorded by many artists through the 20th century, including the famous version by Rock ‘n roll titans Simon & Garfunkel. The influential duo made the ancient folk ballad global with a poignant rendition that equates betrayal in love to war. A clever pairing of “Scarborough Fair” with their anti-war “Canticle” was achieved using vocal and instrumentation overdubs.

Playing this song gets a whole lot easier once you familiarize yourselves with the melody which is written in the key of E minor. Emulating it can get tricky with the multitude of chords, intricate fingerpicking, and layers of guitar work that are in it. It’s a beautiful song that’ll require heaps of patience, all of which will be well worth the effort.

23. Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer

Key C sharp minor
Tuning E A D G B E
Genre Blues-rock
Tabs See tabs for Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

The soulful opening riff in “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” has all of us swooning to it! John Mayer has a knack for making songs about situations in life that every listener can relate to. This one talks about how two people are striving to keep a relationship alive when it’s actually slowly burning to the ground, and the spark is fading away.

Played in the key of C sharp minor, the rhythm section consists of the three chords C#m, A, and E with the addition of B and F#M in the chorus and bridge. Sounds simple? Not by a long chalk! “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” showcases this modern guitar virtuoso at his finest. From intricate muting and vibrato-powered intro to tricky chord embellishments and a challenging solo rendered with a slew of quick slides, Mayer’s guitar work is astonishingly awesome.

24. Voodoo Child (slight return) by Jimi Hendrix

Key E minor
Tuning Eb Ab Db Gb Gb Eb
Genre Psychedelic rock, blues-rock
Tabs See tabs for Voodoo Child Slight Return

This song needs no introduction. A Jimi Hendrix staple, “Voodoo Child,” has been covered by numerous music legends such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Kenny Wayne, and Shepherd, just to name a few. Hendrix used the scale of E minor and tuned down half step to play this classic that’s teeming with fuzz and distortion. It begins with a riff on a wah-wah pedal before escalating sonically with crunchy chords and breathtaking lead parts in Hendrix’s signature psychedelic style.

Whenever multiple guitarists collaborate on stage, Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” is one of the tracks that they almost always jam to. And why not! Like Joe Satriani right said, “It’s just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity.”

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed going through this list of some of the best songs that have been written in the minor key. Each of these songs has something unique to teach us as musicians, and if you’re looking to practice minor key songs, this blog is a good place to start. Happy learning!

Leave a Comment