Creating Specific Emotions With Chords (Hit Song Chord Progressions Part I)

The science of writing a great chord progression is still very much in its infancy. We all learn about the ii-V-Is and the turnarounds, but what are your chords actually doing with your audience?

If you want to be able to create any emotion you want, in this article I will show you how.

And by the way, if you’re just looking for a list of usable, commercial chord progressions, check this.

1. Pick your basic emotion

The first chord of your progression determines your basic emotion.

The types of chords that are of interest to you in pop music are:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Dominant 7
  • Suspended
  • Minor 7
  • Major 7

These can be grouped into 4 basic emotions:

  • Happy: Major
  • Sad: Minor
  • Funky: Dominant 7
  • Dreamy: Suspended (neutral), Minor 7 (beautiful), Major 7 (floating)

So if you pick a major triad for your first chord, your progression will sound happy, pick dominant 7 and it will sound funky.

2. Color in your emotion

Your second, third and fourth chord color your basic emotion.

Quantity is key here! The more you use of a certain emotion, the more your song will start sounding like it.


  • Excitement: An overly positive emotion (use only Major)
  • Craziness: Overly positive, with an edge (mix Major with Dominant 7)
  • Nostalgia: Happiness with a lot of sadness (basic emotion Major with Minor)
  • Depressed: Use only sad chords (Minor)
  • Romantic: Positive, dreamy (Mix Major with Minor 7 and/or Major 7)
  • Sexy: Edgy, funky (Dominant 7)
  • Beautiful: Colorful (Mix Major/Minor with Minor 7 & Major 7)
  • Apathy: Neutral, colorless (Suspended)

You get the idea…

Understand what your basic emotion is and what sub-emotions you can use for color. Pick your chords based on that.

Check out Part II here.


Pretty vs. Energetic Chords (Hit Song Chord Progressions Part II)

My Top 5 Chord Progressions (+Chord Rotations) – incl. Video

143 Royalty-Free Chord Progressions

Written by Friedemann Findeisen

Songwriting Coach & ComposerWith recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William's orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

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