Melancholic music just hits a little different, you know? Whether it’s in an epic ballad or a deeply personal melody, we just love a good sad song to pour our hearts out to.
Which is almost part of the problem. If you do want to make a sad track of your own, you’re going to be competing in a crowded field.
With so many chord progressions being used in so many iconic songs, it can be hard to make your song stand out from the rest.
But worry no more, as there are more than 20 under-utilized chords in this list that will give your tune that special something extra!
F – Dm7 – F/A – Bb
To start our list of chord progressions to make you feel the… well, the feels, we have this chord progression, guaranteed to strike those emotions whilst you are playing.
This is a simple progression that is great for adding your melodies and spin on it. However, considering that these chords very rarely make it into many well-known songs, you might find that simply adding this progression adds something unique to your music.
The best part about this progression? It’s not overused at all! These same chords appear in just one song by Adele. You can hear it in her track ‘Easy on me’.
So if you’re looking for an easy yet effective way to add some sadness to your music, give this progression a try.
C – G – Am – F
As far as “sad” chord progressions go, this is probably one of the less in-your-face sad collections of chords that you’ll find on this list. This may be making some people wonder why exactly we have included it on this list at all.
However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t sadness to be found in this otherwise quite jolly progression. Emotion is a messy bag of different things, after all, and it is possible for an otherwise pleasant progression to hit just right and open our emotional floodgates.
That wistful happiness, that almost nostalgic feeling for what you once had no longer being there, is a perfect blend of both a fond memory, as well as sadness at its loss.
Now obviously, this is nowhere near as sad as say, the famous ‘Autumn Leaves’ progression from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which has been covered so many times, it would take us a long time to name them all.
But maybe you’d like to create your version of Autumn Leaves, or even use this progression as inspiration for creating your own.
We should also mention that this progression does occur in John Denver’s ‘Country Roads‘. It starts with a nice little verse riff, then goes into the chorus where the progression makes itself known.
A – C#m/G# – F#m – D
Whilst this chord is related to a similar number of progressions that you’ll hear in other popular chords, especially those that use I to IV as the change, this is a great chance to use a different chord as its dominant note. With A major being the front-runner to this particular set.
It’s a pretty cool-sounding progression, but don’t expect to see it too often. The only song that comes to mind using this progression is by the late, great Prince. And even then, it’s more of a passing reference than anything else.
You could easily play this progression on any instrument, though it will sound better on guitar. The reason behind that is that it’s easier to play the melody notes on the lower strings.
But hey, if you want to play around with this progression, that’s fine by us. Just keep in mind that it’s unlikely to ever become a huge hit.
C – Am – F – G
Whilst 4-chord progressions are extremely common in music, it’s always amazing to see just how much variety only a few notes can have between them. Case in point: This particular progression starts in C major!
This progression has actually been covered by artists such as Coldplay, Paramore, Muse, Mariah Carey, Katy Perry, and so on. So chances are, you’ve heard it before.
What sets this apart from others of its kind is the inclusion of an E minor chord. Whilst most songs tend to stick to the order of 1-3-5-7, the E minor chord sounds much more interesting when followed by a B flat chord.
So now that you know the basics, let’s look at a few examples.
The song features a lot of references to love and has a slow, ballad-like feel to it, which makes it both romantic, as well as a little melancholic, thanks to its somewhat slower pace.
Eb – Bb/D – Cm7 – Bb/D
If you’re looking to avoid using minor chords in your piece, then this progression might be just the thing to add to your music. While this is a progression that is difficult to pull off live, it’s still quite easy to pull off on the guitar with a little practice.
For starters, you need to know what key you’re in. If you’re playing this progression over the tonic chord (i.e. the one that appears first), then you’ll probably want to start out in the key of C Major.
It’s one of the best ways to make sure that your piece doesn’t sound too busy, whilst still having a bit of depth.
One last example we want to look at involves the song ‘Landslide‘ by Fleetwood Mac. As well as featuring their signature vocal harmonies, the song contains one of the best, most recognizable bass lines ever written.
F – G – Am – C
You may recognize this progression from ‘Take Cover‘ by Mr. Big. However, whilst it certainly takes inspiration from that track’s chord progression, this one’s first chord being an IV instead of the original’s I, gives it a totally different feel when it comes to listening to it, especially when it comes to the emotions it strikes in listeners.
In fact, it’s one of those progressions that you often hear people talking about, but don’t understand why. But once you hear it played on guitar, you might find yourself singing along to it too.
Whether you like the idea or not, these types of progressions are great tools to incorporate into your work. And since there are so many variations to choose from, you should have no problem finding something that works well for you.
We’d even go so far as to say that it’s possible to find some truly unique ideas in these kinds of changes.
G – Em7 – Cmaj7 – C6/D
Minor keys, as we’ve already mentioned, are the most popular tool that musicians use to try and instill a little sadness and melancholy in their tracks. But this chord proves that it is possible to hit you in the feelings by using major keys too, which also helps make it sound more original.
After all, if you can come up with a way to do this type of change without sounding repetitive, then you’re bound to have some success when it comes to writing your own songs!
One of the best examples that we can think of that uses this progression in recent years is the track ‘I’ll Never Love Again‘ from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, and is an excellent showcase of what it can do when placed well in your song.
If you wanted to write a song that had a slightly different feeling to it, but didn’t want to stray too much away from the roots of rock, then you could always take inspiration from this chord progression. Whilst it may not be entirely original, it will bring something new to your style.
So if you’re struggling to come up with new ideas, you could always turn your attention to this progression. It’s got a certain timeless quality to it that will ensure that it never gets old.
F – G – Em – F
One thing that’s important to remember when thinking about using any of the chords above in a track is that they’re only going to work if they fit within the context of the harmony you’re trying to create. If you play them out of place, they can end up making the whole song seem very boring.
However, if you’re playing them properly, then this progression has the potential to become incredibly effective. After all, it’s not just limited to sad music, either.
You could use it in rock songs too, to help generate a sense of urgency amongst your listener.
As well as this, it could potentially be useful for creating tension and drama in a dramatic track too. When you’re looking for ways to add a bit of emotion to a piece of music, you could always look to use this progression. It’s perfect for adding intensity and atmosphere to a track.
This progression is used in Mariah Cary’s ‘We Belong Together’ hit song, which is a great example of the range that it has, being the main rhythm in an excellently melancholic R&B track.
When it comes to the chords themselves, this progression simply has too many options for us to cover them all completely here.
But you can see the variety that this progression has when used right. So don’t forget in your next-song-writing session!
Am – (C – Dsus2)
To get the full impact of this progression, it needs to be played at a faster tempo than normal. This allows the chords to resonate with your audience, giving them a chance to truly feel the emotions that the songwriter has been trying to convey.
It’s also worth noting that this progression isn’t strictly necessary for the chords above to work effectively. There are lots of other ways that you could go about achieving the same results.
For example, instead of using Cm7, you could opt to use a C major 7th or a B minor 7th chord. The point is, the choice is yours.
It’s honestly surprising that this chord isn’t used more often, considering that it’s used in Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt‘, arguably one of the most melancholic songs of the legendary musician’s career.
And so, now you know how to start writing some beautiful music! Hopefully, these chords have inspired you to find some new melodies and rhythms that you can explore further.
As long as you approach things from a fresh perspective, you should quickly discover that the possibilities are endless.
C/E – Fsus2 – G – Am
This can be a tricky progression to pull off, as the Fsus2 suspended chord needs the slash C/E chord for this to work. But when you can, you’ll be able to turn what was once a pretty dull sound into musical magic!
But even without that, this progression still has plenty going for it. For one thing, it’ll allow you to create a huge amount of interest for your listeners.
They won’t be able to resist the temptation of following along with the melody line, especially if you’re playing it well. And if you do manage to pull this off, then you can rest assured that your tracks will stand out against the crowd.
One thing to note though is that you need to make sure that you’ve got a good sounding low E string before you begin any serious recording sessions.
If you play the progression without having a good low E, then you’ll end up with a lot more high notes in the mix.
This can cause problems for the bassist who ends up having to deal with tracking down those extra notes. So before you try anything, make sure that you have a solid setup. Also, consider practicing each part separately first before attempting the whole thing together.
A – C#m – B – F#m
Not even starting on the I chord, you can tell within just the first note that this progression is trying to do something different!
The main thing to keep an eye out for is whether or not the A chord is being played as an A7 chord. This isn’t always apparent, so it pays to take some time to check.
If the A7 chord is present, then you’ll want to avoid playing the Cm or B chords by default. Instead, focus on creating tension between the two dominant chords, which is a great way to establish a sense of drama and mystery.
The Fm can be the perfect way to finish off the section. It doesn’t necessarily need to be played as a traditional Fm chord shape, but rather as any number of other shapes within the key at hand.
For example, the Fm could be played as a half-diminished, diminished, augmented, sharpened, amongst plenty of other techniques.
You can also use the progression as a way to build up a melodic idea, before bringing it back down to earth again. The Fm chord would act as a sort of anchor point, holding everything together while allowing your imagination free rein.
So go ahead and experiment with this one!
Am – F – C – G
Another powerfully melancholic progression, this one is an ear-worming start to how it gets your attention. You might even say that it’s a bit of a slow burn.
It starts simply enough, with an A minor, which is pretty standard for many songs that are going for a more sad tone. Eventually, we get an F minor chord, where all of that tension builds up and explodes simultaneously.
When the C chord comes around, it provides us with a nice moment of reprieve. Only for us to be left with yet another unanswered question. And so the cycle continues.
This chord progression is also an excellent way of adding a serious tone to even the most upbeat tracks into a dire situation that requires your attention.
And when it comes to people listening to your music, attention is exactly what you should be looking for!
It’s hard to describe exactly what makes this chord progression so potent, but there’s certainly something about it that keeps drawing people back for more.
There’s something undeniably appealing about its melancholy nature. It takes you through a journey of emotional ups and downs, but never really leaves you feeling completely depressed.
Fm – Eb – Bb
There are plenty of longer progressions that allow for the precise buildup of emotion that a musician might be looking for in a track. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to get those same emotional responses with fewer chords. Quite the opposite, in fact!
With fewer chords, things become much easier to manipulate and control, which means it becomes much easier to create a mood!
All you have to do is make sure that you’re using a strong tonal center, such as a D major triad, E minor pentatonic scale, etc.
In the case of this particular progression, we’ve got a fairly large amount of notes stacked up, giving each chord a chance to stand out and do their job properly. So let’s dig right in and see if we can find the tools needed to help you construct a similar effect.
Am – Am/G – D/F# – F
A very simple chord sequence, but as soon as you hear it, it quickly becomes apparent just why it works so well. This chord progression has been used by countless artists in every genre imaginable, making it quite possibly the most widely known chord progression in existence.
As you probably know, it’s a perfect fit for that classic moody country vibe, having been used throughout numerous hit records.
If you ever want to play a song that feels authentic, you’re only going to need to look towards the old country classics.
Once you get past the first few chords, there’s no denying that this progression will keep pulling you along and leaving you wanting to listen over and over again. You’ll want to reach for it whenever you need some inspiration.
E – A – E/G# – (A – D/A) – A
While not nearly as common as the previous chord progression, this one is just as effective as any other. There’s something special about how this progression is structured.
Both of these main chords share a root note, allowing them to work together nicely. The reason they don’t appear very often is that there’s not a huge demand for sad music. People tend to gravitate towards happy or upbeat material the majority of the time.
So while these two progressions may seem like they could work equally well in a sad situation, the chances of someone using them for that purpose are slim.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to accomplish the same thing as the other progression. They’re both great examples of how a small number of chords can be put into use in a variety of different ways.
Am – G – D – D
If you’re looking for a progression that sounds great at any speed or tempo, then this is the sound for you. It’s incredibly versatile; you can use it anywhere from slow ballads to fast pop songs.
In fact, nothing is stopping you from using this chord progression in any sort of musical context whatsoever!
The thing I love about this particular progression is that it allows for all sorts of sonic possibilities. Once you start stacking notes, you’re free to go crazy with what you come up with.
And since there are no limitations on exactly how you arrange these chords, you’re bound to enjoy the results even more than I did.
The main downside to this progression is that it tends to feel too repetitive after playing through your favorite songs.
While it does give you the option of adding new elements to spice things up, there’s no denying how many times you’d have to repeat yourself before getting bored of hearing the same thing over and over again.
Just remember to not overuse this chord progression. It sometimes might make its impact more… well, impactful.
A – Asus4 – Dmaj9/F# – D – E6 – Dsus2 – A – Dsus2
Are you looking for a progression that will give you a challenge? Then you’ll certainly find it in this slash and inverted chord combo!
This particular progression has always felt out of place to me when compared to the rest of the guitar arsenal. But if you dig deep enough, you’ll find that there’s quite a bit to learn from it.
It’s usually used by musicians who have mastered the art of improvising to create original pieces. For example, the Slash and inverted chord combination was used extensively by Jimi Hendrix in his live performances.
He would take the basic premise of the regular minor pentatonic scale and add an extra note to each string. By doing so, he created a unique harmony that sounded completely out of left field.
To be honest, we’re pretty surprised this progression hasn’t seen more usage in popular music. It’s one of those rare combinations of chords that only get better the longer you play them. But due to their complexity, most people simply haven’t had the patience necessary to master them.
Am – G/A – F – E7
This is a classic progression that you should go for if you want a classic melancholic love ballad. If you don’t mind sounding like a heartbroken teenager, then this progression is perfect for you. It’s also a common component of several rock subgenres such as indie folk and post-rock.
Many artists have been known to incorporate this progression into their songs for the sole purpose of creating that haunting effect.
But while this sound may seem intimidating, if you break down its components, you’ll eventually realize just how easy it is to recreate. All you need to do is stack two major thirds arpeggios on top of each other.
As far as its versatility goes, this progression is second to none. You can easily switch between acoustic and electric guitars for maximum flexibility. Plus, it’s hard to imagine anything going wrong when using it because there are very few restrictions placed on you regarding where you can use it.
Am – C – G – Em
This modal progression might be just the chords that you’re looking for to make that jazz single you’ve been working punch just that little bit harder.
While this progression is typically associated with modern jazz, it’s often heard in pop and rock genres as well.
There’s something about this particular chord sequence that makes it appealing to any genre. And since it’s so versatile, it’s not uncommon to hear this progression in different song structures. From upbeat pop songs to slow soul ballads, your options are endless.
The only real downside to this progression is its tendency to bore listeners if they hear it over and over again. But if you think about it, isn’t that what all great songs do anyway?
Have fun experimenting with these three chords… and keep practicing your technique until you can play them without having to look at the tab anymore.
G – Am – D7 – G – D7
This is another great progression for any country and folk lovers out there who want to add a little extra moodiness to your track.
While this progression isn’t nearly as complicated as some others listed here, it still requires a lot of practice before you get comfortable playing it.
Since it’s based around a minor pentatonic scale, many players will find themselves struggling to figure out which notes to hit first. Fortunately, there aren’t any rules involved.
Like most of the ones listed above, this progression is entirely situational. You can start anywhere and end up somewhere else. So try it out for yourself… but remember to practice, practice, practice.
However, once you start building up enough confidence in yourself to play through this progression, you will find that it ends up being much easier than you thought. Many seasoned players swear by this chord sequence as a staple for making any arrangement sound “country.”
F#5 – D5
This is a very simple chord progression, especially when compared to the others we have already covered. With only two chords in it, it’s a punchy way of creating an emotional piece.
This might sound a little counterintuitive at first, but you’ll be surprised how well it works when you try it out for yourself.
This progression is so straightforward that many players feel completely intimidated by it. But don’t let that stop you from trying it.
Since you know exactly what comes next, you should feel fairly confident getting through it. This means that even though it may take some time to learn, you shouldn’t be too worried about mastering it.
If you have access to a piano or keyboard, it’s also possible to create this chord progression on these instruments. However, if you don’t own either of those things, then you’ll probably want to pick up a guitar to record and perform it.
So why not give this progression a shot today? Just follow the notes, and see how you go!
Am – (G – D)
For another solid, yet simple progression, this minor chord to majors is another 2-part combo for your musical toolkit.
Once again, it’s based heavily on a major scale. What’s more, it’s pretty similar to the one we discussed earlier. So while it will take some time to master, it won’t be difficult to make sense of.
After all, both progressions share the same key signature and are made up of the exact same chords.
Just like the previous progression, this one has a few downsides. For starters, it doesn’t lend itself to every style of music.
It’s best suited to more traditional styles such as blues, jazz, or anything else featuring a tonal center. Also, because it’s built around the C Major Scale, it won’t work too well for other scales.
It does, however, have a couple of benefits over the last one. The first is that it’s less common, meaning fewer people will be able to recognize it. And since they won’t be as familiar with it, it will come across as a bit more mysterious.
That mystery factor makes this progression perfect for use in darker genres. If you’re looking for something sinister-sounding, it’s worth checking out.
Dm – Am -Em – Am
Look, we know we said before that you don’t have to have minor keys to help make your chord progression sad or melancholic But that doesn’t mean that they don’t make a hell of a track when they are!
This set of minor chords is perfect for those musicians that don’t want a slow tempo to their track but don’t want to sacrifice any of that melancholy for it.
It’s kind of like the combination of the minor scale and the minor triad. And just like those other combinations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s overused. But the truth is, it’s really not.
The reason is that it’s so simple. This means that there isn’t much to forget about once you get started with it. And although it’s not a complete overhaul of our other progression, it’s still a great addition to this list.
A – E/G# – F#m – F#m/E – D/F# – E7sus4 – E7 – A
This progression is a little more complicated than the last few we have covered, and will probably take a lot of practice to get just right. But once you do, it’ll be an amazing trick to pull out for your music.
Let’s start by talking about what makes it different from the others. First thing’s first: this progression uses some very cool chords.
What I mean by that is that instead of just using major, minor, diminished, augmented, or dominant 7th chords, this progression features chords that are called suspended.
Suspended chords are chords that contain notes that aren’t part of the actual scale. Instead of having G, C, Bb, and E in their scale, the suspended chords contain notes that are outside of the normal scale.
When playing these chords, you’re skipping over certain pitches to reach them. This is done through the process of tritone substitution.
F – C/E Dm7 – (F – C9sus4)
Ah yes, the perfect use for bass notes! This chord progression is ideal for maintaining rhythm for a song.
If we wanted to move to pitch F, we could either skip over two octaves of the scale. Or we could go all the way down to pitch D, which would require us to skip two whole steps.
Instead, we could go through the middle step by replacing each note between F and D with another note that has a frequency halfway between the original note and the next note.
So if we were moving from F to G, we would substitute the note D in the same spot with a note C. These new notes will then form a half-step higher than both the original notes and the new note we substituted in.
If we were going through a similar procedure with a progression like this one, we’d replace the G with the note B and a new note that was 1/2-step lower than both the original note and the new note we replaced.
(Bm7 – A/B)x2 – (D/E – E)x3 – D/E
Now, this particular progression also happens to feature a tonal center of Bm. But since it only contains 3 notes, it’s less common than the other four progressions we’ve looked at thus far.
That said, it turns out that it’s pretty awesome. You see, when using a tonal center of this sort, the melody line is often taken care of for you.
The reason why this works so well is that it places a strong emphasis on the root note, making it easier to sing along with. Plus, it adds a lot of tension to the tune.
In fact, the only time this doesn’t work as well as when there’s no accent on any single note within the tonal center. For instance, imagine you are singing “Ode To Joy” with a tonal center of Am. It’s a bit difficult to sing harmonically because nothing stands out.
This brings me to my second point. The tonal center doesn’t matter to the success of the progression. Even though it contains the most commonly used chord in this sequence (the Bm), it doesn’t have to be present in every version of the progression.
F#m – Asus2 – E5 – Dmaj13
Here, we take the suspended chords that we saw earlier and add a tonal center to the progression. We still follow the same rules of tritone substitution. However, now we’ll replace the note F with a D to make the entire sequence fit into a 4-note scale.
The result? A very interesting, but not overly popular-sounding progression.
When you hear this progression played live, it sounds great. And what makes it even better is that the bassist who plays this part is just jumping around the chords and not relying on the tonic or dominant to keep him in place. He might be completely unaware that those notes are even there.
Of course, this isn’t always possible. There may be situations where your band can’t play it, or they won’t know how to play it.
As you can see, there are plenty of underappreciated chord progressions out there that are ready to be made yours. Some of these are more famous than others.
Many are relatively unknown. Regardless of which ones you use, you should try to find some of your own.