20+ Sad Chord Progressions to Break Your Heart

A guitar can make a difference in a song. It can provide an electric feeling when used in an aggressive manner, but it can also move listeners to tears if the chord is sad enough. When it comes to sad chord progressions, chances are you will have to work a bit harder though, as getting there is not an easy process.

There are people out there who simply come up with a few minor chords over one key and call it a day. But then, those with a bit of experience can definitely provide a deeper experience. They allow emotions to be released without too much hassle. It sounds complicated, but here are a few progressions, tips and ideas that will make you impress your listeners.

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How to reach sad chord progressions

Learning a couple of chord progressions is not everything if you have no clue how to implement them into songs. Besides, emotional chord progressions songs are quite subjective because what makes some people feel sad will have no effect over others. Obviously, the more people you can reach at a deeper level, the better the chord progression is.

If you are new to this and you have no idea how to come up with a solo out of nowhere, the best thing you could do is stick to notes from the current chord. Some famous guitarists are known for doing this. Basically, you must be aware of the chord being played. Stick to notes in the same chord in order to come up with a smooth transition.

Another good idea is looping melodies. If one melody in particular sounds sad enough and can impress your audience, looping it will increase its emotional status. This technique works better for solos, as you can build tension and make listeners understand the depth of your music. Make sure the end of the melody blends in nicely with the beginning when you come up with a loop.

Longer notes represent a must when after sad chord progressions guitars. At the same time, you can also extend them. Most listeners would expect it, so make sure you extend it for more time. It allows building a connection with the audience. Opt for something soft and slow if you want a sad and deep feeling. How long should this note be? It is totally up to you.

Vibratos represent another great idea when trying to come up with a sad song or melody. It represents a classic form of communication between your guitar and the audience. If you are new to this, the vibrato is fairly simple to understand – slight and quick variation to come up with a richer or stronger tone. How do you reach it? Press a note, then stretch the closest string a little.

When it comes to finding the saddest key, different musicians will have different opinions. What works for some of them will not work for everyone else, so you must also use your intuition and instinct. However, the more musicians you ask for the saddest chord progression key, the more answers will point you towards the key of D minor. Lots of people consider this key to be the saddest one, so they float around it for their sad guitar chords progressions songs.

Now that you understand the concept and unwritten rules behind a sad song, what are the most popular sad guitar chord progressions out there and what makes them stand out in the crowd? In order to figure out what truly sounds good for your taste, make sure you have the guitar next to you and try each of them as you go along.

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A – C#m/G# – F#m – D

This is a popular sad progression based on a modern trend that you might be familiar with. Lots of sad songs these days rely on different types of variations of the I to IV. Why is this chord so successful? Simple – the I is a dominant chord to the IV when you use a major key. The progression is mostly based on a major key, so this is what you have to focus on.

There are more things to pay attention to if you want to do it right. For instance, consider the bass notes in the chord progression, as they must be used accordingly. To help you get a better idea about what it sounds like, check out Adele’s Someone Like You. If you find the song deep and sad enough for you, this progression is ideal.

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G – Em7 – Cmaj7 – C6/D

Minor keys can definitely add to your sad chord progressions – not only is it easier, but also more effective. Choosing the right keys will help you influence the feelings of your audience. For example, G major can certainly trigger some tears. With all these, the progression is not extremely popular these days.

Plenty of musicians dislikes the idea of using chords that may seem too closely related. As you break everything down, the difference is in one or two notes. If you are not sure about the progression, listen to Lady Gaga’s I’ll Never Love Again and you will get an idea about what it sounds like.

A – C#m – B – F#m

This progression is another less common option because it starts on something other than the I chord. In most cases, these progressions are known as modal progressions. Now, keep in mind that whenever you go ahead with a progression on the IV chord, you can choose to stay in the major key – the so-called Lydian mode.

This mode adds a dreamy sound – a bit deeper than normal. Play Lana del Rey’s Summertime Sadness to understand what this progression sounds like.

E – A – E/G# – (A – D/A) – A

Getting and implementing sad chord progressions guitars over a simple example can be tricky, so you need to understand how it works and how it can be brought to your melodies. Progressions are much more diversified when it comes to other instruments, but guitars have a unique composition. This progression is quite common – play Elton John’s Candle in the Wind and you will get it straight away.

Am – C – G – Em

This is a modal progression that can easily count among sad chord progressions. However, you can use this progression in the Dorian mode as well. The Dorian mode is more appropriate for those who like jazz, but it is just as handy in rock. Keep in mind that in order to come up with a modal progression, you need to ensure that both the beginning and the end go in a major key – not the I.

Not sure how this progression actually feels? Find Metallica’s Fade to Black and you will understand it straight away.

F#5 – D5

This is one of the simplest sad chord progressions out there and perhaps a good starting point if you are not too experienced. You only need two chords for this progression – I and IV. Despite being simple, you may already be familiar with this chord progression – quite common in many of Nirvana’s songs on the Nevermind album – Something in the Way is probably the easiest song to identify it.

As you perform this progression, the tendency is to move towards more stable chords – ignore this tendency.

A – E/G# – F#m – F#m/E – D/F# – E7sus4 – E7 – A

This progression is a bit more difficult than others, but it ensures a smooth transition and easy loops. Play it in A major and you will bring back some good memories from Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven. The progression feels sad, but the secret is in the actual bass notes, which must be used by the book – especially the F#.

Just like in many other progressions, the bass register is the element that makes the difference in this one. Therefore, this is what you have to focus on.

(Bm7 – A/B)x2 – (D/E – E)x3 – D/E

This is another long progression that can easily go among the deepest sad chord progressions out there and for some good reasons. It takes a bit of time to master it, but it is totally worth it. A longer progression is not necessarily the hardest part of the process. Instead, you need to come up with a good melody around it. You need the audience to follow it along for a longer period of time – this is the hard part.

A similar progression has been used by Joni Mitchell in Blue. There is nothing to worry about it if you find it difficult. The secret to long – yet easy – progressions is to use chords that are almost identical in composition.

D – Bm7 – F#m

This simple and short progression can be extremely effective if used in the right melody. This option is all about using similar chords at the same time – simple as that. It is one of the most valuable lessons you will learn while getting used to playing the guitar. It is extremely effective and can give you some exquisite results – putting chords together if they share a few chord tones.

As you master this progression, you will notice it is easy to implement into others as well. Get used to it and you will find it super simple to master other progressions or make a smooth transition.

(A – A7/G) – F#m7 – Em – C# – A – F#m7 – Em – C – (C# – F#7)

This sad chord progression is more common in classical music which, by the way, is rich in sad and dramatic progressions. Some of them underline sadness, while others define despair – there is plenty of choice in there. This progression is quite long, but a little practice will help you implement it in no time. Some of the notes are relative, so getting from one to another is relatively simple.

The C chord and the relationship between the V and I are the main elements. Furthermore, the progression stands out because it uses a chord that does not really belong to the key, adding even more to its dramatic profile. If you want to explore something similar, listen to Tchaikovsky’s theme in Swan Lake – you may already be familiar with it.

F – Dm7 – F/A – Bb

Time will bring in experience and experience will help you come up with your own sad chord progressions without too much hassle. For instance, there are times when you might come up with a sad progression by using a minor chord and a major key – it sounds simple and unusual, but it is totally doable – just like this progression.

Furthermore, the progression is incredibly simple to learn. You can add it to your melodies in a natural manner, but you can also improvise every now and then to add more emotion to your songs. The first inversion of the major chord gives you more possibilities. The song will feel natural and pleasing, while still dramatic.

To help you get a better idea about what to expect, play Adele’s Easy on Me and you will get it straight away.

Eb – Bb/D – Cm7 – Bb/D

This progression is another good choice. It is solid proof that you do not always need to rely on many minor chords to come up with an emotional chord progressions. There is only one in this progression. Plus, another chord is used twice. It does not look too good on paper, but try it out and you will be pleasantly surprised.

The progression may go in more directions and it does not always have to be sad. For example, the vocals you come up with – if any – will determine the mood of the melody. The melody itself will also contribute to the final result – your listeners can receive different tones. Simply put, you can make your audience cry with sadness, but you can also use this progression in an inspiring and happy manner.

Not sure what it would sound like? While not identical to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, it is quite similar.

Am – (C – Dsus2)

You just cannot go wrong with something simple and easy to implement. There are more variations of this progression out there, but this is probably the easiest one. Plus, it adds a bit of extra tension as you move towards a change.

Based on your experience, you should know what parentheses mean. When they cover at least two chords, you need to play them in a single bar. Sure, you can adapt and change everything, but this is the general rule.

Johnny Cash has done a pretty good job using this progression in Hurt – a cover after Nine Inch Nails.

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Fm – Eb – Bb

Plenty of sad chord progressions tends to be relatively long. You need to build up tension and let the audience sink into sadness. However, this is not always a general rule. A three-chord progression can be just as intense. Based on how you use this progression, you can also push it in a different direction – not necessarily a sad one.

The key of your song is usually more than enough to send the listener where you want them to go. Stick to a key like Bb minor or perhaps C minor and your job is half done. If you are not sure what this progression sounds like, try out Lana del Rey’s Blue Jeans.

A – Asus4 – Dmaj9/F# – D – E6 – Dsus2 – A – Dsus2

Based in A major, this sad progression will take a bit of time to master, but the final result is totally worth it. You get a powerful bass that will make the difference. Plus, the different bass notes will allow you to have different intervals together.

If the progression sounds familiar, but yet unknown, play Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees and you will hear it straight away.

G – Am – D7 – G – D7

This progression is excellent for more complex songs. Sure, it is just as good for blues and peaceful music, but it is mostly aimed at country music or other types with plenty of chords. If you have never taken advantage of a seventh chord, this is your occasion to bring it in and explore its capabilities in a less-known way.

This is another sad chord progression that will not require too many minor chords. The progression was made famous by George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today. The song makes it pretty obvious – you get a better effect if the song is high in the beginning and moves on to a lower sound.

Am – (G – D)

A bunch of solid chords is often more than enough to come up with a touching progression. Sure, there are all kinds of concepts out there, but you can also keep things simple and effective. Become familiar with the seven chords coming in every minor or major key and your options are countless.

This modal progression has been featured on Alice in Chain’s Down in a Hole.

F – C/E – Dm7 – (F – C9sus4)

The bass can make the difference quite often and this progression makes it obvious. You might be familiar with the line because it comes from Prince – Nothing Compares 2 U. The progression slowly moves in a downward direction. However, it feels good and comfortable, rather than too aggressive.

Bring in the seventh chord and get used to it. It will work wonders on your progressions because each chord has a seventh interval – whether in a minor or major key.

F#m – Asus2 – E5 – Dmaj13

While this progression is quite flexible, it has a metal aspect that makes it stand out. It makes it unique due to the minor progression, as well as the possibility to use the III chord down to the VII chord without changing the key. This idea is highly recommended if you need to build a strong progression. Not sure what it sounds like? Play Cemetery Gates from Pantera and you will get a decent idea.

D – A/C# – Am6/C – B7 – Em – Em7/D – A7/C# – D – D7 – G – Em7b5 – D/A – A7sus4 – G6/D – D5

This is one of the longest sad chord progressions out there. It takes time to understand it completely. You need to practice again and again in order to master it, especially if you want it to be the base of your melody. However, practice makes perfect and sooner or later, you will definitely master it.

The progression is in D major. You need to remember a few things and apply some of your knowledge when coming up with such a long and sophisticated progression. In other words, it is not suitable for beginners. So, what do you need to know?

First of all, you have to reuse chords to ensure the progression is consistent and strong – quite uncommon in more basic progressions. Second of all, you have to stick to a V-I move if you can – the more often you can do it, the better the final result will be.

Furthermore, pay attention to how often the D chord and note are included. As you play it a few times, the progression will sound quite familiar – it is the main progression from Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

C – Cmaj7 – Cadd9 – C – Asus2 – Asus4 – Am – Asus2 – Cadd9

There is a reason wherefore this progression may seem sophisticated, but it is actually extremely common. It offers a high degree of versatility and allows you to customize it and come up with your own versions. It sounds familiar because Kansas used it in Dust in the Wind.

Using the same chord will make the song sound quite similar. Sure, it is a good starting point. But then, play around with the progression. Try a few small changes to find out what might work. Bring in your own pattern and make the melody stand out.

Conclusion

Bottom line, the above-mentioned sad chord progressions are excellent for a starting point. But at the end of the day, almost all progressions – especially the famous ones – have already been used by plenty of musicians. It is perfectly fine to seek inspiration from other musicians, but it pays off customizing everything to be unique.

If you are new, stick to famous progressions. As you gain experience, you can write your own music by customizing classic progressions. Figure out how to use different elements together and you will gain access to unlimited options and ideas.

Simon Mattav

I am the owner of The Cook Trio, a three-piece band that has been performing in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I have a passion for music – everything from guitar to songs. My passion is writing songs about my life experiences, feelings and emotions through different genres. My inspirations are some of today’s popular songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez among others.

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