How to Write Sad, Uplifting & Happy Chord Progressions

Lisa Witt  /  Chord Progressions  /  UPDATED Jul 12, 2023

In this lesson, I’ll show you how to write happy chord progressions, sad chord progressions, and uplifting chord progressions. You don’t need to be an expert to understand this lesson — beginners who are just learning how to play the piano can benefit from understanding chord progressions too!

Chord progressions are the foundation of almost every song. And the types of chords used in a progression affect how a song feels to the listener. And it’s a little more interesting than major = happy and minor = sad!

🎹 Your Go-To Place for All Things Piano

Subscribe to The Note for exclusive interviews, fascinating articles, and inspiring lessons delivered straight to your inbox. Unsubscribe at any time.

A Note About Key…

We’ll explore these progressions in the key of G major. Which means all Fs are sharped!

However, you can transpose these chords to any key you like. That’s because I’ll be using the Nashville Numbering System, which means chords are named after numbers (ie. I, V, vi) rather than names (ie. G major, D major, A minor).

You can learn more about the Nashville Numbering System here. It’s a pretty handy system to learn. In a nutshell, it just means we name chords after the scale degree they’re built on. For example, if a chord is built on the fifth note of the C major scale (G), we call it a V chord instead of a G major chord.

Happy Chord Progressions 😄

Sad and happy chord progressions. Smiling woman with short platinum hair smiling next to frowning man with glasses and brown hair on piano bench next to a grand piano.

If you guess we’ll be using major chords, you are right! Major chords have a distinctive “happy” sound.

I – IV – V

To create happy chord progressions, you can simply use the I, IV, and V chords (or 1-4-5). Each one of these chords is a major chord, and they work together in any order to create a happy sound.

You can also add energy or enthusiasm to the progression by varying the rhythm.

🎹 Make This Your Year of Getting Good at Piano 🔥

Get free lessons, tips, and piano news delivered to your inbox every week. Subscribe to The Note!

Sad Chord Progressions 😢

As you may have predicted, we’ll be using minor chords for our sad chord progression.

…And to make things even sadder, we’ll start the progression with a minor chord. This tricks our ears into thinking of the minor chord as the “home base” chord.

I’ll show you a progression that starts on the vi chord, like this:

vi – IV – I – V

While there’s only one minor chord in this progression, we create a sad mood because we start with it. This is a very common progression in pop music.

Here’s another progression with two minor chords that also sounds kind of dark!

vi – iii – V – IV

Is someone cutting onions?!

Chord Progressions For Uplifting Moods 🙏

This chord progression works well with many pop songs and fits with the EDM sound.

It’s essentially a combination of the happy and sad progressions we’ve covered. This progression creates an uplifting, hopeful feeling, and it goes like this:

IV – V – vi – I

Stepping up from the major IV chord to the minor vi chord creates a sort of hopeful “lift” before we settle back into the I chord.


Indeed, the greatest songs use the similar ingredients (chords) to convey an emotional impact. As Leonard Cohen says…

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts…

from Leonard Cohen’s hit “Hallelujah”
Black and white portrait of Leonard Cohen in a blazer.
The greatest songwriters of all time use these same progressions. Roland Godefroy, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These are just a couple of options that you can try to experiment with when writing chord progressions for different moods. The real fun comes when you start making them your own.

Once you have your progression down, then you can start working on a melody. We have a lesson on that right here.

🎹 Learn Piano With Real Teachers

The best way to learn piano is with real teachers, but not everyone has the time and money for a private instructor. At Pianote, you can get real feedback from real experts…all from the comfort of your own home. Explore our Method and community yourself with a free 7-day trial.


Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

Headshot of woman with short platinum hair against a studio background.

The easiest way to learn beautiful piano chords.
Sign up for 5 FREE play-along lessons

By signing up you’ll also receive our ongoing free lessons and special offers. Don’t worry, we value your privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.