Sad Chord Progressions To Make Your Listeners Cry

sad chord progressions

It’s rare to have met a songwriter who hasn’t written at least one sad song in their lives. Some songwriters even write solely sad songs. So what makes a song sad? For one, lyrics are important in adding context, but the chords lay the foundation for making it harmonically sad. So here are some sad chord progressions to explore for your next emotional song!

Reading Roman Numerals 

If you are new to reading roman numerals, then don’t fret (if not, feel free to skip this part)! The numerals refer to a specific note on the scale, so I = first note, II = second note, etc. If a numeral is lowercase, it means that it is a minor chord based on that scale degree. Capital means that it is major. An example would be: in C major, vi = Am.

i – VI – III – VII; ex: Am – F – C – G

This chord progression is probably one of the most common sad chord progressions there are. In fact, if we translate this to the key of C major, the roman numerals would be vi – IV – I – V, which is just a rearrangement of the most used chord progression of all time. When you hear this chord progression, it’s hard to think of anything else but “oh, this is gonna be a sad song.”

i – III – iv – VI; ex: Am – C – Dm – F

This chord progression is an arrangement of the chords used in the above progression. It goes to show that even a slight difference can give off a different feeling. While still sounding sad, there is less energy associated with this progression. Since we end on the VI, there is not as much of a pull towards the i chord as if we were to use V at the end of the progression. So think about what cadence you may want!

i – VII – IV – IV; ex: Am – G – D – D

The major IV chord in this progression brings in a brightness that lifts the harmonies from being completely minor. As a result, this chord progression sounds more melancholy with a hit of discouragement.

i – iv – III – V; ex: Am – Dm – C – E

This sad chord progressions starts off sounding like another melancholic progression, but the V chord at the end brings in some tension. The V chord in general is often used to bring listeners to the edge of their seats. So this chord progression can be good for more energetic negative emotions such as anger, betrayal, and fear. 

VI – VII – I – I; ex: F – G – Am – Am

This chord progression steps up from VI to i, which creates a growing tension as it reaches the first note of the scale again. It’s great for a dynamic, aching sadness such as despair or depression. You can also switch out the second Am for C to play around with the ending of this progression. 

And there you have it! Some of the most common sad chord progressions. The next time that you write a sad song, be sure to think about what specific emotion you may want to convey, and let that guide you to the chords you will use to build your harmonic foundation. Happy writing!

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