Sad chord progressions are powerful musical passages that evoke strong emotions and reactions. If you’re writing music or looking to incorporate chords and notes into a song, you’ll want to get familiar with common sad chord progressions and their minor keys.
Minor keys and minor chord progression are well known in music theory for their sad or emotive quality in ballads, expressive music, and dramatic songs. It’s ideal to get acquainted with famous musicians and how they use a common chord progression to develop their signature sound in a specific song and understand how widely used they are through different music styles.
Popular Chord Progressions
Which musicians and styles of music often produce the best sad chord progressions? Imagine the most impactful songs that evoke the strongest emotions. Music is always about emotion and an important way for musicians to connect with listeners on a raw level of understanding with the idea that we’re all connected on a deeper level through everyday experiences that change our lives.
If you’re looking to get more acquainted with popular sad chord progressions, some great songs feature chords that you’ll know through the past few decades of musicians and bands. These include The Cure, Oasis, Bjork, the Righteous Brothers, Led Zeppelin, and many more. Sad progression chords are prevalent across all eras and styles of music, from country to blues and heavy metal. These chord voicings create a mood and honest rawness that provides depth in music.
The Cure – A Letter to Elise
The Cure is a popular band that rose to fame in the 80s and 90s. They formed in West Sussex, England, and became well known for their melancholy tunes and the lead singer, Robert Smith’s distinct vocal style. The Cure is primarily considered a rock band, though it is often categorized into goth-rock, alternative rock, and post-punk sub-genres.
A Letter to Elise is an excellent example of how a sad chord progression can sound catchy and achieve the natural emotional effect:
A minor, G major, D major, D major
Chris Isaak – Wicked Game
One of the most iconic songs in modern country music is Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. This song was released in the late 1980s, featuring a distinct 1950s style with strong emotive tones and chord progressions. Wicked Game quickly grew in popularity and was featured in various films and series due to its powerful emotional impact, with romantic solid tones.
Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game was frequently covered by musicians in various styles, including pop and rock. This song’s minor chord progression is one of the most recognizable in modern music and a great inspiration for musicians and songwriters alike:
C major, G minor, G minor, D minor
REM – Everybody Hurts
This powerful song by REM combines major and minor chords throughout, which provides a substantial shift between hope and despair. This iconic tune, Everybody Hurts, was released in the early 1990s and became one of REM’s most popular and frequently played songs. The sad chord progression incorporated in this song enhances the overall meaning of the tune and the powerful lyrics.
The exciting style of Everybody Hurts how sad chord progressions can be played in a primary key, with the repetition in the song’s introduction and the verse. This chord progression is typically played in a fingerpicking style, and while this section is done in D major, it shifts to a minor key (E minor) before returning to D major.
D major, G major, E minor, A major
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Leonard Cohen is famous for writing and performing sad and highly emotional songs. His famous song Suzanne is an example of one of his most tragic and powerful tunes. Leonard Cohen’s low and dark vocals further enhance the mood, and he is well known for his distinct style of singing and creating beautiful yet heartbreaking music.
E minor, F# major, E minor, G# major, A major
Why sad chord progressions can be fun to play
Sad chord progressions offer a greater depth and rawness to music, especially for musicians who typically sing a sad song about tragedy, heartache, and experiences that evoke emotional reactions.
While it may seem ordinary to use minor keys to create these songs and their sad progression chords, you’ll find some major keys, and a shift between minor and major chord notes create more layers of emotion and increased enjoyment of music.
Melancholy is a part of our life and history, and it is often best portrayed and communicated through music. When musicians create a powerful song, including some of the most iconic music in recent decades, these sad and emotional chord progressions quickly become unforgettable. They are often incorporated into variations of the original song and new music.
Often, a guitar chord progression has the most significant impact when it follows a musical passage or chords in a major key and makes a powerful emotional impression.