We listen to music to help us process and perceive our own emotions. It's no wonder why sad songs are so popular. Sad music serves as a private friend in times when it's hard to open yourself up to the world.
But how can you convert your emotions into powerful, thorough melancholic music? To write a song is one thing, to craft successful sad songs is another. Luckily, we have the scoop. Below, we'll share our best tips on how to write a sad song so that you can start writing lyrics that connect and encapsulate the sadness of the world.
Why Are Sad Songs So Powerful?
To write a great sad song, it's important to understand why sad music is so powerful, to begin with. Here are some of the reasons why sad songs resonate with so many different music listeners and songwriters.
The sad song formula helps frame the songwriting process through a vulnerable lens. When you write a song about a sad experience, raw lyrics come naturally, making it easier for your words to connect with listeners.
Vulnerability can feel risky, but it also comes with an enhanced capacity for reward. The closer listeners feel to a song, the more likely they are to latch onto a piece of music for years to come. Music is one of the few art forms that listeners can conceivably come back to for years on end, and sad songs certainly speak to this sensibility.
Some music is designed to bring people together, other music is designed to be private. Songs filled with sadness have this aura of exclusivity, prompting listeners to have vulnerable experiences with the music. Songs tied to certain memories stick around longer, and if you can write a strong melody built amongst traditionally private feelings, it's bound to resonate with the masses.
Writing sad or personal music is just as powerful for the singer-songwriter as the song is for the listener. Even if you don't release your sad song, turning your emotional thoughts into a piece of art is an excellent and effective way to process your emotions. Listening and creating art can help you move past a melancholy stage in life, which is a key answer to why so many of us are drawn to sad music.
Morose Musical Elements
Music interpretation is ultimately subjective from one person to the next and across cultures. However, as discussed below, there are some sad song elements that can evoke certain emotions. You can use certain key types, for instance, to evoke a sad feeling faster in a listener. Sad songs are fueled by honest lyrics, but emotional-sounding instruments can certainly help.
7 Proven Tips For Writing A Sad Song
Are you ready to write a sad song? Here are some essential tips for writing sad music that will connect with your listeners.
1. Consider A Minor Chord Progression
While there are no musical absolutes, you can help build the foundation of a sad song by selecting a minor key and minor chord progression. While it's not impossible to write an upbeat or happy song in a minor key, these melodic constructs typically evoke a more mysterious or sadder response from listeners.
Once you pick a sad key, you can take it a step further and write a sad chord progression. Again, there aren't necessarily rules here, but some sadder chord progressions to inspire your writing include:
I – V – vi – IV
i – VII – IV – IV
When in doubt, opt for a series of minor chords and start writing sad lyrics on top of them. Sometimes looping a couple of chords can be enough inspiration to write an entire song.
Major chords usually have a happier feel to them, but an alternative method would be to create a happy-sounding song with incredibly sad-sounding lyrics. This contrast can be super effective and help package a sad song to more of an audience.
A perfect example of this is "Take a Walk" by Passion Pit, which is about extreme money troubles despite the upbeat feel of the instrumentation:
2. Write From The Heart
Perhaps the most important tip for writing a successful sad song is songwriting from a place you know. Successful sad songwriters write what they know, and without apprehension. Play to your emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and put it into your music.
Don't forget that music is one of the rare opportunities where you can state how you feel to an exaggerated degree with little to no consequence. If there was ever a time to go big or go home, it's now.
If possible, treat songwriting like you're writing in a diary. The most vulnerable your lyrics are, the more likely they are to connect on a deeper level with other artists and listeners. Refine your lyrics and song structure to optimize for clarity, but keep your initial messaging the same. This is the time to lean into your intuition and run with it.
It may be wise to focus your process to where you're writing directly on a guitar or piano before switching to full production of the song. This can help you focus more on the substance of the song, and put style on the back burner. Sad songs need to be polished just like any other song, but the emotional context should always come first.
3. Try A Slower Tempo
Have you ever noticed that happy, upbeat songs tend to be, well, faster? This isn't an accident. In order to create an atmosphere of sadness, opt for a slower tempo for your song. For example, you might want to track your song somewhere between 70 and 90 bpm. This will give you plenty of space for long, descriptive passages and words describing your personal experience.
4. Put A Spotlight On The Lyrics
Many great songs, but especially sad ones, rely on great lyrics. If you're going to focus on anything in your sad song, it should always be how the story plays out in the lines of your song. Don't make the mistake of only focusing on the content itself, though.
Does the way you structured the song make sense for your overarching ideas? Does the hook sound catchy to the average listener? Once you get the initial story down for your idea, it's a good idea to go back in to edit your first inclinations for the better.
Songwriting can happen in a flash, or it can take multiple days, weeks, or months. The tricky part is that you never know how easy or difficult it is to write a particular song until after you've written it. Try to free yourself from any expectations and trust your process when you're writing sad lyrics.
5. Paint A Story
Sometimes, the easiest thing for listeners to latch onto is a story. If you're having trouble diving right into your feelings, structure your song around a sad event in your life. Share how you felt before, during, and after that sad time in your life, focusing the chorus around what you walked away with.
Any great sad song should take listeners on a journey through tension, anticipation, and honest lyrics. If you're having trouble becoming inspired, listen to some of your favorite sad songs for inspiration. Take notice of how your favorite musicians structure their lines and apply those insights back to your music.
6. Write In The First Person
In order to prime yourself for a more personal song, it may be wise to write in the first person rather than talking directly to the listener, or recounting a story in the third person. This simple tip can make it easier for you to play off of your own personal experiences, which is perfect for budding songwriters who are still trying to work past the vulnerability needed for successful sad songs.
Remember, it's not unnatural to feel apprehensive to share your most intimate feelings, especially when they're about a particularly difficult topic. This is just a skill you'll need to develop over time as a songwriter. It's helpful to keep in mind that most listeners are projecting their own experiences onto the music they're listening to, rather than casting an opinion on the singer. Write as though you were talking to a trusted friend.
7. Create Poetry To Music
As mentioned, the best sad songs ever written are focused around the words that build them. So, it's especially important that you integrate literary devices throughout your verses to keep your listener hooked.
Whether you're using hyperbole, metaphor, idioms, or double entendre, there are plenty of ways to hook your audience. A good litmus test is to see if your story or song reads like a poem.
If it doesn't hold on its own without the melody, you may have to revisit your songwriting. The best thing you could do for conveying the emotion of sadness is to be honest and descriptive about how you feel. Search for poetic ways to convey your emotions and rhyming lines.
Above all, the best way to write a sad song is to practice the craft. In the beginning, it can be difficult to convey your feelings in such a vulnerable manner, but with some adjustment, it will become second nature.
Hopefully, these tips make it easier for you to explore your own unique sound of sadness. Have fun crafting your own melancholy music!