Harmony, or the chords that support a melody, is an important element of music, and sad guitar chords and chord progressions are required if you want to write sad and emotional music.
A chord is a collection of notes performed together, whereas a chord progression is a series of two or more chords played in succession.
Every chord expresses a different feeling, and some chords are sad, dark, or depressive in nature. In this lesson, we’ll look at five of them.
When a chord is seen in the context of a chord progression, it expresses emotions more clearly. A chord progression may even contain chords that, when played individually, sound happy or bright, but when played as part of a progression, sound sad. In this lesson, we’ll look at five different chord progressions that convey sad emotions.
Minor vs Major chords and progressions
Major chords and progressions are more likely to convey happiness, whereas minor chords and progressions are more likely to represent sadness.
However, as you’ll see in some of the examples below, this is not a hard and fast rule, and major chords and chord progressions in major keys can be utilized to portray sadness as well.
Sad guitar chords
What is it about a guitar chord that makes it sound sad?
Several elements influence this, which include:
- The use of the minor third interval (rather than the major third, which makes the difference between a minor and a major chord).
- Within the chord, there are dissonant intervals.
- Low voicing (a sad chord is usually played closer to the neck rather than higher up on the guitar).
- Open strings are used.
These 5 sad guitar chords all have one or more of these elements, as you can see.
- D minor
There aren’t dissonant intervals within this chord, but it has the other three elements present: a minor third, a low voicing and an open string.
- D sus 2
Suspended chords substitute a second or fourth interval for the third interval of the scale.
The chord becomes dissonant as a result of this. This holds true for both sus 2 and sus 4 chords, though sus 2 chords tend to sound a little sadder.
- A minor add 9
Adding a major 9th interval to a major or minor triad increases the chord’s dissonance and makes it sound sadder.
Note that a 9th interval is the same as a 2nd interval, but played an octave higher. The difference between an add 9 chord and a sus 2 chord is that in add 9 chords, this interval does not replace the minor or major third as it does in suspended chords. Rather, it is “added” to the triad that already exists.
In simple words, the A minor add 9 chord contains a minor third and a dissonant ninth, both of which contribute to the chord’s sorrowful feel.
- B min 7 (b5)
The minor 7th (b5) chord, also known as a half-diminished 7th chord, is formed when we harmonize the 7th degree of the major scale or the 2nd degree of the natural minor scale.
It is more usually utilized in minor keys and has an empty, depressing sound. The second sad chord progression in the next section makes use of this chord type.
- E minor 9
A minor 9 chord differs from a minor add 9 chord in that the seventh degree of the scale is also included in the minor 9 chord.
This increases the dissonance inside the chord, but rather than making it sound sadder, it makes it sound tense.
You’re not just depressed, but you also have a sneaking suspicion that something bad is about to happen.
Emotional chord progressions
Though each chord evokes a distinct emotion, the emotions shift when the chord is part of a progression. For example, “happy chords” such as major might be used in a progression that conveys sadness.
This section of the lesson will teach you 5 chord progressions that express sadness.
Note: If you don’t know how diatonic chord progressions work, I suggest you go through the linked lesson first. For the purposes of this lesson, I’ll presume you’re familiar with the Roman Numerals that describe the chord’s function in the key.
- i – VI – v in the key of A minor: Am – F – Em
Minor is the place to start if you want to convey sad emotions and this chord progression can be used to create a depressing feeling with the music.
- i – ii min 7 (b5) – v – i in D minor: Dm – E min 7(b5) – Am – Dm
It’s hard to sound happy when you just use minor and diminished chords.
- I – iii – IV – V in C major: C – Em – F – G
Though songwriters who aim to communicate sad emotions commonly choose minor keys, chord progressions in major keys can also be unhappy and emotional.
The following chord progression uses three major chords and one minor chord, however the transition from the first (C) to the third (Em) degree of the scale is the saddest you can obtain from triads in a major key.
- I – vi (add9) – IV in C major: C – Am add9 – F
Another way to make major chord progressions sound sad is to use extended chords or additions to the triad.
- IV – iv – I in A major: D – Dm – A
Despite being in a major key, this progression, also known as the minor plagal cadence, borrows a chord from the parallel minor scale of A, where the chord on the fourth degree is minor rather than major (D minor instead of D).
Writing sad and emotional music
Composing sad and emotional music entails more than just picking sad chords and progressions.
Composing music entails altering musical elements, and aspects other than harmony determine the emotions expressed in songs.
Here are some more ways you can make your music sound sad and emotional:
- A slow tempo
- Use long notes in the melody.
- Use scales that convey sad emotions like the harmonic minor scale.
- Use emotional phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato.
- Keep the dynamics soft, but also use accents to reach climaxes.
- Convey sad emotions in the lyrics.
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