Many people mistakenly associate major chords with happiness while minor chords with sadness; this perception has nothing to do with the chords themselves.
Composing a sad song doesn’t have to be difficult when using appropriate chord progressions; creating such an opus could be achieved as easily as tapping into certain notes on a piano keyboard.
1. C major
Played slowly, this chord progression can create an emotive sense of sorrow or melancholy in music of many styles.
C major doesn’t require key signatures, making chord progressions much simpler to write in this key. To create sadder sounding chord progressions in C major, pair it with minor chord that shares notes similar to it – an Em chord with its top two notes is often recommended; when combined together it creates something known as minor plagal cadence.
Chord progressions can convey an incredible range of emotions when combined with melody and lyrics that elicit certain responses, but it’s important to keep in mind that music’s impactful emotional reactions vary according to who’s listening and listening to what. Knowing some basic rules of harmony may give songwriters a leg up when creating melodies that convey specific emotions or express certain experiences.
2. G major
Chord progressions are an invaluable asset in music. Though instrumentation, timbre, rhythm and melody all play an integral part of creating the overall effect of any song, chords remain the primary way chords communicate emotion through musical language.
Example: Most Western adults and children associate the sound of a simple’major’ chord (made up of root, third and fifth notes in a major scale) with joy; yet by simply shifting this chord down one note it becomes associated more commonly with sadness than joy.
These methods will enable you to write sad songs using many of the same techniques used in other genres of music. As either a songwriter or instrumentalist, try different chord progressions until one sounds emotionally sad to you before adding in other musical attributes for an enhanced emotional effect. Don’t underestimate just how far one or two chords can take you! Don’t worry: even if your only know one or two chords, you can still craft music that brings out emotions and brings about empathy in listeners.
3. E major
Chords are an essential element in any song, providing the foundation for melodies and inducing various emotional responses in listeners. Although there may be an assumption that major chords sound happy while minor chords elicit sadness in listeners, this assumption can be false since other factors like tempo, timbre, and rhythm can make even major chords sound sad as well.
This can be accomplished by pairing major chords with their depressing counterparts, such as pairing C major with its depressing counterpart the Em triad to add dissonance and create melancholy feelings. Another way of making major chords sound depressed is using sus 2 or add 9 chord progression, which increases dissonance while making them sound tense – such as John Denver’s song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
4. F major
When discussing sad chords, it’s essential to keep in mind that there’s no set rule; rather it depends on how the chords are combined together and the emotions they convey in combination with other musical attributes such as tempo, timbre, rhythm and melody.
An effective way of making major chords more emotive is to play them with a non-diatonic minor triad – as seen in Lana Del Rey’s song, “Summertime Sadness”. This creates a dissonant feel and gives off an air of sadness that cannot be replicated elsewhere. This example can be found in “Summertime Sadness”.
Make a major chord sound saddened by adding dissonant ninth intervals such as sus 2 or minor add 9 chords that will create an empty, sad tone, as seen in Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight”. This technique can be utilized in a progression such as one found in Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight”.