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.
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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!