Sprinkle a little magic, wonder and even soul into your chord progressions with this neat music theory device
OK, so maybe that's a bit extreme, but you get the idea: if you're going for a certain mood in your track, you need to know how best to create it, so read on as we equip you with a few tear-jerking tools.
We can have C major as our first chord and then add in one or two of the minor diatonic chords from the key of C major. Here's the full set of diatonic triads, all laid out in order, built by stacking up alternate notes from the C major scale. It's quite interesting to note that, out of the seven chords in the diatonic set, three are minor chords.
So let's tag one of these diatonic minor chords onto our major tonic chord to try and create a sad vibe. Let's try C major to A minor. This is a conventional, diatonic move that occurs in millions of songs. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it's not particularly sad – we can get a lot more heart-wrenching than this.
Things often sound sadder if the listener is expecting 'happy'. So try starting your progression with a major chord and then – wham! – hit them with a non-diatonic minor chord – one that's not in the key, that they won't have been expecting. For an idea of what this sounds like, try a major tonic chord – C major, for example – to the minor iv chord, Fm.
There are two particular types of non-diatonic chord that make great tearjerkers, the first of which is the half-diminished, or minor-seven-flat-five (m7b5) chord. This is made by taking a regular minor seventh chord – I'm using a D minor 7 shape here (D, F, A, C) – and flattening the fifth by a semitone, making D, F, Ab,
C – Dm7b5.
The m7b5 is a great heartbreaker chord to add to a progression if that's the emotion you're trying to convey. Let's try it in a major key, rooted off the minor ii chord. In the case of the key of C major, that makes it a Dm7b5 chord. Moving from C major to Dm7b5 is a similar move to our C > Fm change from step 4, but with a D in the bass under the Fm.
Now let's focus on our second non-diatonic chord shape – the # IVdim chord. This is an easy one to put together. Find the fourth degree of the major scale of the key we're in and frame the diatonic IV major chord that uses it as its root. So in the key of C major, that would be an F major chord (F, A, C).
To make our # IVdim chord, all we have to do is raise up the root note by a semitone, keeping the rest of the chord shape – the A and C notes – intact. This gives us F# dim (F# , A, C). Paired with our tonic C major chord, this brings a really wistful, longing character to our progression, which now takes the form C > F # dim > Dm7b5 > C.
Here's a minor key diatonic progression that, in Roman numeral form, is spelled i > VI > III > VII. In the key of D minor, that translates to Dm9 > Bb > F > C. Even though three out of these four are major chords, it has a faintly tragic, still contemporary vibe. Slipping in a dominant A7/C# passing chord back to the Dm helps make things even more miserable.
Step 12: Our final progression this month is also in the key of Dm, and features a chromatic, descending bassline that never fails to conjure up a melancholy feeling. We've got Dm > Dbaug > F/C > Bm7b5 > Gm/Bb > Dm / A > Abdim7 > A7. The chords are enhanced by a wistful superimposed bell melody (shown in red). Anyone got a tissue, (sniff)?
Pro tipsby Dj Liqid Touch
Quite often, it's not necessarily chords themselves that are sad, it's more the movement between two particular types of chord that evokes the feeling of sadness. By using slightly more exotic, non-diatonic chords, we're able to convey slightly different shades of emotion. Rather than just being straight-up happy or sad, we can use these to convey more subtle shades of sadness, like nostalgia or disappointment for instance. Try playing around with different combinations of major with minor, m7b5 and #ivdim chords to see what emotions you can magic up.re...