How to Create Specific Emotions With Chords

By | June 13, 2016

This article originally appeared on Holistic Songwriting.

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, I’ll show you how in this article. 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 four 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 chords 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 and 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 two here.


With 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 Findeisen started his songwriting/producing school, Holistic Songwriting, in November 2015. He has since written a book, The Addiction Formula, a seven-day audio program on songwriting, and a video course on drum writing.

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