5 Sad Chord Progressions You Should Know About - (2023)

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
(Video) The 5 Saddest Piano Chord Progressions 😭

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.

(Video) 5 Chord Progressions You REALLY Should Know!

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.

(Video) 5 Emotional Chord Progressions on Piano 🎹

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.

Minor Four

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.

(Video) BEAUTIFUL 'EMOTIONAL' CHORDS! (everyone should know)

Major Two

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!


(Video) The Most Emotional Chord Progression Ever (you may cry)

Why does music make us emotional? | Inside Science

Seventh Chords | Music Theory.Net

What Are Some Chords That Sound Sad On The Guitar | Guitar Fella


What is the saddest 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 darkest chord progressions? ›

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 saddest chord progression ever piano? ›

The “Evanescence Progression” is one of the most recognizable sad piano chord progressions. It has a melancholy sound that is produced when the I chord is immediately followed by the iii chord.

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 is the evil chord? ›

Like the Beast, it goes by many names: Diabolus in musica (devil in music), the devil's interval, the tritone, the triad and the flatted fifth. As its Latin moniker suggests, it's an evil sounding combination of notes that's designed to create a chilling or foreboding atmosphere.

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!

Why do some chord progressions 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 devil's chord on piano? ›

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 saddest scale? ›

The minor scale is the pattern in western music typically associated with sad feelings. It includes three different variations called the natural minor scale (or Aeolian mode), the melodic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale.

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.

What are emotional chords? ›

On a basic level, major chords usually mean happy, while minor chords usually mean sad. And on an emotional level, that's true. Generally speaking, major chords tend to sound bright, while minor chords sound darker.

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 is a broken chord called? ›

An arpeggio is a broken chord, or a chord in which individual notes are struck one by one, rather than all together at once. The word “arpeggio” comes from the Italian word “arpeggiare,” which means "to play on a harp." (“Arpa” is the Italian word for “harp.”)

What chords are 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!

What chord is sicko mode? ›

Sicko Mode has sections analyzed in the following keys: B♭ Major, and G♯ Phrygian.

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.

Is it OK to steal a chord progression? ›

Many songwriters are not aware of this, but chord progressions, as such, are not protected by copyright, and can be used by other songwriters. This makes sense, because if you had to come up with a unique progression that the world had never heard before for each song you write, you'd be out of songs very quickly.

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.

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.

Can music make you depressed? ›

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.

What 4 chords play every pop song? ›

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 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 is the scariest minor key? ›

Harmonic minor is the darkest of conventional minor scales. You can make scary music by playing just the scale (see Bach's Toccata below) or play it over chords.

What chord is Megalovania? ›

About The Key Of D Minor

Megalovania is written in the key of D Minor.

What chord is Dadgad? ›

DADGAD Tuning is an open tuning because it forms a Dsus4 chord across the open strings. A Suspended fourth chord is neither Major nor minor, so DADGAD Tuning isn't a Major or minor open tuning.

What is the darkest scale? ›

The darkest scale is the double harmonic major scale which is just a major scale with a flat 2nd and a flat 6th. It features three half-steps in a row which form two augmented seconds. As a result, the double harmonic scale features some of the darkest modes and chords.

What is the creepiest scale? ›

What's the scariest scale? Four of the Phrygian mode's seven scale degrees—the second, third, sixth and seventh—are minor, or “flatted,” intervals, which is what gives Phrygian such a foreboding, “evil” sound, one that is perfectly suited to heavy metal music.

What is the mystic scale? ›

The Prometheus scale aka Mystic Scale is a hexatonic scale (containing six notes) giving the following interval formula: Tonic (1), major second (2), major third (3), augmented fourth (#4), also sometimes referred to as flat fifth (b5), major sixth (6) and minor seventh (b7).

What key is painful? ›

Audio Profile. Pain is written in the key of F♯m. Open Key notation: 4m.

What key is Jay Z song cry in? ›

Song Cry is written in the key of A♯.

Open Key notation: 11d.

What key is nightmare? ›

Nightmare is written in the key of D.

Open Key notation: 3d.

What makes a chord sad? ›

Then by simply lowering the middle note by a semitone – one white or black key to the left on a piano – this is turned into a 'minor' chord, which is typically heard as sad.

What do 7 chords do? ›

In your harmonizations of melodies, it is best to use seventh chords to add tension as you approach tonic function. Therefore, sevenths are added most frequently to chords of dominant function ( V and vii ) and chords of pre–dominant function ( ii and, to a lesser extent, IV ).

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 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 is the devils interval? ›

The Unsettling Sound Of Tritones, The Devil's Interval In music theory, the tritone is an interval of three whole steps that can sound unresolved and creepy. Over time, the sound has wound up in jazz, rock and even Broadway musicals.

What scale does ACDC use? ›

Pentatonic Scales

Many of the solos in AC/DC tunes are based on pentatonic scales, particularly the minor pentatonic scale—the heart of classic rock soloing. You probably know position 1 of the minor pentatonic scale, nearly always the first scale a rock-oriented guitarist will learn.

What are some sad chords? ›

9 Sad Chords Progressions That'll Stir Listener's Emotions
  • Note: All chord progressions are relative to the key. ...
  • Example: C | G | Am | F.
  • Example: C | Am | F | G.
  • Example: F | G | Am | C.
  • Example: F | G | Em | F.
  • Example: C/E | Fsus2 | G | Am.
  • Example: Am | F | C | G.
  • Example: Am | Am/G | D/F# | F.

What is the saddest musical scale? ›

The minor scale is the pattern in western music typically associated with sad feelings.

What are the most emotional chords? ›

9 Sad Chords Progressions That'll Stir Listener's Emotions
  • I – V – vi – IV.
  • I – vi – IV – V.
  • IV – V – vi – I.
  • IV – V – iii – IV.
  • I/3 – VIsus2 – V – vi.
  • i – VI – III – VII.
  • i – i/7 – IV/b4 – VI.
  • i – VII – IV – IV.

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 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.

Why is D minor the saddest key? ›

This so-called “flatted third” is closer to the root note, and the distance from the major third is thought to create peripheral dissonance and a jarring discomfort in the listener's ear. And by making the note go a half-step down rather than up, it creates a “feeling down” directional emotion.

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.

Is it okay to steal chord progressions? ›

Chord progressions are one of those song elements that aren't usually protected by copyright, so it's fine to take progressions that you like in other songs and use them in your own.

What is an emotional chord? ›

On a basic level, major chords usually mean happy, while minor chords usually mean sad. And on an emotional level, that's true. Generally speaking, major chords tend to sound bright, while minor chords sound darker.

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.


1. 5 Emotional Chords … And How to Actually Use Them
(Marco Cirillo)
2. 5 Most Popular Chord Progressions of ALL-TIME
3. 5 MUST KNOW Chord Progressions to Play 1000s of Songs!
(Lauren Bateman)
4. 5 Chord Patterns for 5 Different Emotions
(Alex Rome)
5. 10 Powerful Chord Progressions Every Songwriter Should Know
6. The ONLY chords you NEED to know
(Mike George)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tuan Roob DDS

Last Updated: 01/24/2023

Views: 5309

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tuan Roob DDS

Birthday: 1999-11-20

Address: Suite 592 642 Pfannerstill Island, South Keila, LA 74970-3076

Phone: +9617721773649

Job: Marketing Producer

Hobby: Skydiving, Flag Football, Knitting, Running, Lego building, Hunting, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Tuan Roob DDS, I am a friendly, good, energetic, faithful, fantastic, gentle, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.