Music is one of the most emotional and relatable art forms. It constantly finds ways to work into the listener’s heart, and pull out feelings that they are feeling, but don’t really understand. Music helps people to identify with their emotions, and truly feel them to their fullest potential, whether they’re happy, sad, or somewhere in between.
Due to this, there are countless songwriters who put as much effort into making their songs sound as sad as possible. While this might initially seem like a pretty dramatic and lofty goal, creating songs that truly express the emotions and feelings behind the original intent of the song is something that is genuinely beautiful. It can take a lot of work to do, and be incredibly mentally and emotionally exhausting. But a sad song that can truly capture the sadness that someone feels is something to behold and look up to.
One of the best ways to create a song that is truly sad is to focus on the chord progression. These chords are what make up the bed for every other aspect of the song, including the melody, lyrics, rhythm, and countless other elements. If you can get the chord progression just right, almost everything else will likely be able to fall into place pretty easily.
Here are some ways to truly make the songs that you want to make, and fully express yourself in the way that you want to.
Table of Contents
- How to Major and Minor Keys Work?
- What Makes a Progression Sad?
- 5 Sad Chord Progressions
- IV – vi – V – V
- I – I/iii – IV – IVmaj7
- ii – I – V
- I – IVmaj7
- IV – V – vi – iii
- What Are Sad Chords That Musicians Can Use?
- Minor Four
- Major Two
- Sharp Major Five
- How Unison can Help
How to Major and Minor Keys Work?
To understand how to make chord progressions sad, it’s first important to understand the concept of major and minor keys.
Generally speaking, major keys feel a lot brighter and happier, while minor keys feel darker, sadder, and more pessimistic. This isn’t always the case, but when a song is based on chords that are darker, it can make everything around it feel a lot darker.
Technically speaking, major and minor keys are fundamentally the same thing, with all of the chords technically being the same. The only difference depends on where the songwriter wants the root of the key to be. If the root chord of the key is the submediant chord, then the song will subjectively be minor. For the sake of clarity, many composers just refer to chords as their major names, since these names are generally interchangeable in most cases.
What Makes a Progression Sad?
One of the most important things to focus on when composing a sad song is how you use chords that are minor and/or have a lot of tension in them. These chord progressions are often intent on creating that sort of “twinge” in your chest when experiencing sadness, and chords with a lot of tension in them help to do that.
Minor chords in general are also incredibly useful when trying to make songs that sound and feel darker and more sad. These chords often can heavily contribute to the overall feeling that you are trying to relay to the listener. Of course, not every chord in a song has to be minor, but it’s generally best to make sure the minor parts of a song are the most emphasized.
Another way to make a chord progression sad is to make use of seventh chords. These add another note to the chord that will generally make it much more sad sounding, and gives the chord a much more wistful and “sighing” feeling. These are also very “jazzy” sounding chords, and can bring a lot of color to the table when creating new songs. Experiment with seventh chords as much as you can, and you’ll likely find some beautiful new ways to express preexisting chord progressions you already know very well.
5 Sad Chord Progressions
While there are countless ways to make a chord progression sad, here are a few progressions that have been proven to be successful.
IV – vi – V – V
This is a very common chord progression that carries a lot of darkness with it. All of these chords sound fairly unstable, and when resting on the V chord, there can be a lot of tension and unresolved emotion buildup.
I – I/iii – IV – IVmaj7
This chord progression is technically all major chords, but moving the second I chord into the first inversion over the iii in the bass gives it a very dark and sad feeling. The Maj7 chord in the IV also adds a lot of melancholic emotion to the songs.
ii – I – V
The ii chord is one of the most sad and despondent chords in music, when used in a specific way. It is very close to the major I chord, but the slight distance away makes it sound very dark and tense. This progression makes use of that tension very well, and compounds it with the instability of the V chord to make something that’s incredibly useful for sad songs.
I – IVmaj7
The IVmaj7 is one of the most sad chords in music. The IV chord is already fairly dark sounding, but when the maj7 is added to it, it makes the chord feel even sadder and more despondent. Sometimes all you need is a IVmaj7 chord to make everything feel more melancholic.
IV – V – vi – iii
This chord progression follows a fairly linear direction, and just repeats that over and over. It’s a very simple chord progression, but the iii chord especially adds to the overall wistful feeling that many sad songs are looking for.
What Are Sad Chords That Musicians Can Use?
Often, one of the best ways to add color and emotion to a song is by using color chords in your music. These are technically chords that don’t fit within the actual key of the song, but that can actually make them sound incredibly powerful and useful.
This is probably the most common chord that people use that isn’t within the regular key. It honestly sounds like a sort of sigh. When going to the iv from the IV, it can be very effective at creating a very melancholic feeling.
The II chord is one that is commonly used by very dark and sad songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers and Elliott Smith. It’s a very despondent sound, and feels like a twisted bit of optimism. It’s great to throw in the end of a verse or chorus to create a “gut-punch” of a chord sound.
Sharp Major Five
This is a great chord when trying to create a more ethereal kind of sadness in a song. It’s a very airy feeling, but also very unstable, and can grab the attention of the listener in a very effective way.
How Unison can Help
When making a song with a sad chord progression, it can often be hard to play or draw in those chords. That’s why Unison has created the Unison MIDI Collection, which is full of incredible MIDI files for songwriters and producers looking to expand their sound. If you’re trying to add other human elements to the song to increase the darkness of it, the Unison Vocal Series is a great way to add character and emotion to your sound.
In a world that is so full of songs and music trying to make it to the top, it takes a lot to truly stand out and make a difference. Unison is here to help make sure that you can truly make the best music possible, and truly stand out in the world. Check out Unison today, and start making the music that you truly want to make!
Why does music make us emotional? | Inside Science
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What Are Some Chords That Sound Sad On The Guitar | Guitar Fella
What is the most sad chord progression? ›
A progression like Am-F-Em-Am makes for quite the depressing chord sequence and is used in "Requiem for a Dream".What are the most melancholy chords? ›
The best way I've found to create melancholy is to sprinkle in suspended chords or chords with slight tension. Minor 7th chords or add9 chords work well because they aren't overtly dark, but instead create a subtle sadness that can't be accomplished with a major chord.What are some emotional chords? ›
- Em chord played with a shape that emphasizes the minor 3rd. Purely sad chord.
- Dm(add9) chord played with the note cluster that makes this chord dark.
- C major chord played with the 153 chord shape. A lovely emotional chord.
- Am(add9) chord. ...
- C#m9 chord.
A chord progression is the sequence of chords in a song. Usually, the chords are represented by Roman numerals, which show the relationship between two musical notes, and are relative to a scale. A chord by itself doesn't have a narrative value, but a chord progression does and generates a particular emotional effect.What is a creepy chord progression? ›
If you're a fan of scary movies you've definitely heard this chord progression before. The theory behind it is very simple: two minor chords spaced a minor 3rd apart. Don't just play these chords in root position though; the inversion matters!What is the saddest key? ›
From there it's an easy skip to D, the root of today's subject, the “saddest key,” D minor. That the key of D minor is the key of true sorrow is ostensibly inarguable at this point in time.Why do some chords make me cry? ›
So when we're listening to music, our brain is constantly trying to guess what comes next. "And generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it's strange and unexpected."What chord does Ed Sheeran use? ›
Here, Ed Sheeran shows how most pop songs only use four chords, and it's the vocals over the top that is more unique. The four chords he is referring to are Em, G, C and D.What is the secret chord? ›
The 'secret chord' is a biblical reference. David was a King from the Hebrew bible, and although we all mostly remember him for being the underdog who defeated Goliath, he was, first and foremost, a musician. So we know David played a 'secret chord', whatever that may be.What are the 4 famous chords? ›
The famous four chords used in many pop song progressions are the I, V, vi and IV chords of a major key. The roman numerals represent the numbers of the major scale we begin a chord from (1, 5, 6, 4) so in C major this would be C, G, Amin, F or in G major it would be G, D, Emin, C.
Which scale is best for sad songs? ›
The minor scale is the pattern in western music typically associated with sad feelings.How do you make a sadder chord progression? ›
So try starting your progression with a major chord and then – wham! – hit them with a non-diatonic minor chord – one that's not in the key, that they won't have been expecting. For an idea of what this sounds like, try a major tonic chord – C major, for example – to the minor iv chord, Fm.What are blues progressions? ›
A standard blues progression, or sequence of notes, typically features three chords based on the first (written as I), fourth (IV), and fifth (V) notes of an eight-note scale.Why are minor chords so sad? ›
The argument here is that the minor chord is perceived by us subconsciously as if there is something “wrong” in the balance of nature. Therefore it makes us feel sad or emotional, since it messes with our natural energy vibes.What is the devil's chord? ›
In music a tritone consists of two notes that are three whole steps apart, such as “C” to “F#.” Not found in either the major or minor scales, and due to its discordant sound, it has been called “the Devil's Chord.”What is the darkest chord ever? ›
The diminished chord is the darkest chord in music. This is because it's constructed with stacked minor third intervals. The D diminished chord and F diminished chord share most of the same notes. But, when you add a 7th to the chord they share all the same notes.What is the darkest sounding key? ›
What is the darkest musical key? The darkest scale is the double harmonic major scale which is just a major scale with a flat 2nd and a flat 6th.What is the most haunting key? ›
Simply put, the minor key is often synonymous with:
- Something going wrong, terribly wrong.
Song Cry is written in the key of A♯.
Open Key notation: 11d.
Nightmare is written in the key of D.
Open Key notation: 3d.
Can music cause depression? ›
Does listening to gloomy music make your mood worse? A new scientific report says yes - and you're putting your mental health at risk if you keep on listening. You know what it's like when you're feeling a bit “down”… You throw on a gloomy record and have a good melancholic wallow.Is C minor A sad key? ›
According to Pauer, C minor is the key that is expressive of softness, longing, sadness, solemnity, dignified earnestness, and a passionate intensity.What is A sad chord called? ›
Foreword: a sad chord is usually a minor chord, a 7th chord, or a “sus” chord. Stay with me for a while. Let's explore this music – hear a connection to understand how “sad chords” can guide us into particular feelings.What are the 4 chords in every pop song? ›
They use the same four chords: I, IV, V, and vi, which are probably the most common chords in all of pop music.What are the 4 chords that make every song? ›
And it's not just modern music. The 'four chord song' has been around since Pachelbel's Canon around the turn of the 18th century. These four chords are the magic I, IV, V and vi.What chords does Bob Dylan use? ›
In addition to those, Dylan has used a handful of open-chord tunings, among them open G (D G D G B D), used on “I Was Young When I Left Home,” and open D (D A D F# A D) or open E (E B E G# B E), which he used extensively on Blood on the Tracks.What are the 3 Magic chords? ›
The I, IV, and V chords are the three most common and arguably the most important harmonic elements in the musical universe. Built off of the first, fourth, and fifth notes of any major or minor scale, these three chords form the basis for much of the music found in several genres.What are 69 chords? ›
Relation to other chords with the ninth
The 6/9 chord is a pentad with a major triad joined by a sixth and ninth above the root, but no seventh. For example, C6/9 is C–E–G–A–D.
o The opening of the Prelude (see example 1 above) uses a dissonant chord which has become known as the 'Hitchcock' chord. Consisting of a minor chord with an added major seventh, this chord stands starkly as an immediately unstable sound at the head of the film.What is the hardest chord to learn? ›
The six-string F chord is one of the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. When many people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed), it's with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary. Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords.
What are 7 and 9 chords? ›
In music, the dominant 7♯9 chord ("dominant seven sharp nine" or "dominant seven sharp ninth") is a chord built by combining a dominant seventh, which includes a major third above the root, with an augmented second, which is the same pitch, albeit given a different note name, as the minor third degree above the root.What is the darkest mode? ›
And so we continue, our scales growing progressively dark, until we reach Locrian, the darkest mode: Mixolydian becomes Dorian, which becomes Aeolian, which becomes Phrygian, which finally becomes Locrian, as we see here.What sad music does to the brain? ›
As previously stated, sad music, to a higher degree than other types of music, is associated with certain psychological rewards, such as regulating or purging negative emotions, retrieving memories of important past events, and inducing feelings of connectedness and comfort (Taruffi and Koelsch, 2014).Is B minor a sad key? ›
In classical music, B minor was considered to be a key that gave a song a feeling of deep and thoughtful sadness. The B natural minor scale could also convey patient expectation and hope. This is in contrast with its relative key, D Major, which was considered to be one of the most joyful key signatures.What chords sound mysterious? ›
The Melodic minor works perfectly if you want to create mysterious chords on guitar. The E Melodic minor scale is played like this: E F# G A B C# D# E. The 6th and 7th degree are sharped. This is a beautiful sounding chord!Are minor chords sad? ›
What are minor chords? Minor chords are the set of chords that contain a characteristic minor third interval away from the root. They're typically associated with sad or melancholic feelings. The simplest form of a minor chord is the minor triad which consists of the root, minor third and perfect fifth intervals.Are there wrong chord progressions? ›
Technically, there's no such thing as a “wrong” chord progression in the sense of “prohibited.” But there certainly are chord progressions that are easier for the brain to make sense of.Can major chords be sad? ›
The answer is A RESOUNDING YES. One could even say a major key can sound more depressing than a minor key.What are the 7 guitar feelings? ›
In this lesson, you'll meet the major scale's seven modes—Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian—and learn how you can use their distinctive sounds to create more interesting melodies and chords.What are 12-bar blues chords? ›
A 12-bar blues progression is a set chord progression that repeats every 12 bars of music. You'll play the 1 chord for four measures, the 4 chord for two measures, the 1 chord for two measures, the 5 chord for one measure, the 4 chord for one measure, the 1 chord for one measure, then the 5 chord for the last measure.
What are the 3 types of blues? ›
Although the blues can be categorized in many ways, this portion of the website will focus on describing only three main types of the blues: Work Songs/Field Hollers, Delta Blues and Chicago Blues.Which 3 chords are commonly used in blues? ›
Essentially, the blues is a specific progression that uses the C7, F7, and G7 chords. (For the sake of brevity, I'll only look at playing blues in the key of C). The blues chord progression lasts 12 bars (thus the phrase “12-bar blues”) that move in a familiar pattern using those three chords.Is G major a sad key? ›
G: happy but serious, idyllic, and poetic. It evokes calm, satisfaction, tenderness, gratitude and peace.What is the saddest minor key? ›
Historically, classical composers felt that D minor was the most melancholy of the keys, suitable for lamentations, dirges and requiems.Is F Minor sad? ›
Hermann von Helmholtz once described F minor as harrowing and melancholy. Christian Schubart described this key as "Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave".Why do some chord progressions make you cry? ›
So when we're listening to music, our brain is constantly trying to guess what comes next. "And generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it's strange and unexpected."What is the famous 4 chord progression? ›
The famous four chords used in many pop song progressions are the I, V, vi and IV chords of a major key. The roman numerals represent the numbers of the major scale we begin a chord from (1, 5, 6, 4) so in C major this would be C, G, Amin, F or in G major it would be G, D, Emin, C.What is the saddest key spinal tap? ›
Yet modern songs written in D and D# minor, by and large, still deal with misery. As Nigel Tufnel, the waggish musician protagonist of the 1984 mockumentary Spinal Tap, said when putting his sentimental “Lick My Love Pump” in D minor: “It's the saddest of all keys.Is C minor a sad key? ›
According to Pauer, C minor is the key that is expressive of softness, longing, sadness, solemnity, dignified earnestness, and a passionate intensity.What are sad chords called? ›
Foreword: a sad chord is usually a minor chord, a 7th chord, or a “sus” chord. Stay with me for a while. Let's explore this music – hear a connection to understand how “sad chords” can guide us into particular feelings.
What are the 4 magic chords? ›
It turns out that the four magical chords are E, B, C# minor and A. But with so many chords to choose from, why did dozens of hit songs end up with the same four chords? At first glance, it seems strange that so many songs should have the same chords.What are the 4 chords Ed Sheeran? ›
Here, Ed Sheeran shows how most pop songs only use four chords, and it's the vocals over the top that is more unique. The four chords he is referring to are Em, G, C and D.