Have you ever heard a particular song or soundtrack in a movie, show, or video game that has left you in tears before? Left you speechless? Don’t be afraid to admit it!
As an aspiring composer or one just starting out, have you ever wondered what makes them so sad and emotionally impactful?
The main answer actually lies in chord progressions. These are some of the most important drivers in how a song feels and how you react to that piece of music.
It shouldn't necessarily be a complex piece to sound beautiful and deep. There are actually thousands of hits written around quite simple 4-chord progressions!
Instrument and lyric choice do have some importance. However, your chord progressions and harmony will determine the heart of your songs. Likewise, they will determine just how sad and emotional you want them to be.
Sadness and melancholy is an integral part of mankind’s vast musical heritage. There are uncountable examples of powerful, moving and emotion-sparking soundtracks, scores and individual songs in the world.
Now let’s see some life examples!
This distinctive progression is widely featured in the famous piece "Requiem for a Dream" by Clint Mansell. You will likely recognize it at once as you work with it!
This is an ubiquitous sad guitar chords progression, which is why it may sound familiar when you work with it, similar to the one above utilized by Mansell.
Minor iv chord gives this progression an edge of tension thanks to its addition towards the end of the progression.
This one uses the minor vii and the minor iii. It sounds really moody, ominous and sad.
You can stay on those two chords, alternating back and forth. Or you can explore other options by adding in some major chords as well.
Some of my favorite options are resolving to the I chord or moving to the IV or V chords.
It is yet another interesting chord, using a different chord with a similar base note can dramatically steer up emotions, especially when most of your chords are on minor keys.
This progression is actually used in the Johnny Cash cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt".
This one you might have heard in the song "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton.
It's an interesting progression - it can be arranged in any desired order as part of a larger composition to achieve the exact sad affect you want from the notes.
This applies to any highly recognizable and iconic chords. Mixing them around always has the chance of finding a new powerfully emotional combo you might like!
This beautiful progression is used in "Hit the Road Jack!" by Ray Charles. It may also remind you of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep".
If you can't decide on how to start your song - go with minor progress, open strings, and cluster chords.
A cluster sound is what's created by hitting two adjacent notes on a scale.
Some common chord progressions are just so fundamental that they are used in many different pieces of all kinds of musical styles. This is great news - it means that if you become fluent with them there are hundreds of songs you’ll be able to play relatively easily. Here is one of such progressions for you.
Used in the song "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic/Eddie Hazel.
Descending with this chord progress will help to create a sense of rest.
You can freestyle with a few notes to add a bit of flavor to the music. While doing this, try to use the reverb effect to sustain each note.
This one will help add a sad melody to your song. You can use minor add 9 chords.
The chords will produce a perfect sound that stimulates grief and sadness.
This is another progression within A minor. You can also pay the minor and the major chords using a similar bass note. This progression will yield a dramatic emotional response in your audience.
This one starts on the minor ii, before moving to the I and then the V. It’s in the key of G.
What I love about this progression is how it sounds really unfinished. That's because it doesn't resolve. It just hangs on that V chord.
Most of our chord progressions started on a minor chord. But you don't have to do that to still create a minor chord progression.
If you know your minor chords and your key signatures, then you already have the tools to create your own moody minor progressions. The first step is getting comfortable with the chords that are in each key signature. Once you know those, you have a good foundation to start building your own minor chord progressions.
This final pattern actually starts on a major chord, the IV. It then steps up to the V, minor vi and goes back to the IV.
It gives a real moody feeling and is a popular progression in a lot of EDM music.
If you are advanced enough you can try improvising over the top with the minor pentatonic scale.
There are a variety of reasons why you may want to pursue playing sad and emotional music. Perhaps you wish to simply inspire these very emotions in your audience as a piece of art. A noble and worthy pursuit indeed!
Maybe you want to tell a story or convey more abstract concepts in audible format.
No matter your musical intent, you will find mastering emotional music to be a very rewarding investment of time!
Sad chords allow for complex emotional concepts, meanings, and states to flow through your music. This quality makes songs renowned for their emotionally potent power so memorable.
It is this same magic as well that helps make emotional films and other media so impactful. In most cases, it is the soundtrack that helps establish the identity of the media it scores for both to the creators and the audience.
After all, would movies like Children of Men, Godfather, or Titanic be the same if their main theme songs were swapped with those of Seinfeld or Mission Impossible?
If you'd like to practice one of the following songs and need a bit more guidance - here is also an article with nice detailed walkthroughs we found for you.
If you are looking for some more guidance on your way to composing your own touching melodies - you can find a tailored plan on how to get started and my personal tips and tricks in this practical guide to writing music.