Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Groove
Music Style
  • Contemporary
  • New Age
  • Pop
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Have you ever desired to express raw emotion at the piano that elicits feelings of longing, loss, sadness or sorrow? Do you find your current capacity for expressing sadness lacks richness or originality? In this Quick Tip, I’m going to show you a simple way to improvise sad piano motifs similar to techniques used in songs by pop artists like Adele and Evanescence and film composers such as Thomas Newman. Surprisingly, it’s not as hard as you may think! You’ll learn:

    • 1 Open Chord Position
    • 4 Advanced Chord Voicings you can play
    • 4 Sad Piano Motifs
    • Rhythmic Variations

This lesson centers around a single chord voicing that all beginners can master. We then build out a progression by changing only one note in the bass to create rich harmonic textures that intermediate and advanced students will equally enjoy.

Let’s jump in—but just one caution…you may need some tissues!

Chord Position to Improvise Sad Piano

Do you think learning to improvise sad piano is shrouded in mystery? Well, after learning this one chord, you have learned over 60% of the material you need to know! Our lesson today centers the C minor 9 voicing shown below.Sad Piano Open Voicing Cm9Cm9 open chord voicing notation


Wow, what a rich sound! This interesting voicing omits the 3rd of the chord (E♭) creating a open quality to the piano sound. In the next section, you’ll learn how to alter the bass note to create 3 additional rich chord voicings.

Four Bass Notes to Evoke Sadness

Now let’s change just the bass note of this voicing to create some additional chords. We will cycle through the notes C, A♭, B♭ and F with the pinky finger on the left hand to recolor this voicing into 3 additional chords.

Four bass notes for left hand to improvise sad piano
Cycle through these four bass notes to play additional sorrowful chords

As you change the bass note, you will keep your left thumb on G as well as all of the notes in your right hand. The result is rich, contemporary chord progression that we will use as a canvas to improvise sad piano motifs.

Improvise Sad Piano Progression Keyboards Diagrams

Improv Sad Piano Progression


Doesn’t that sound amazing? You may notice by the chords symbols that the harmonic analysis of these chords is pretty advanced. However, this progression is extremely accessible even for brand new adult and teenage piano students. Those of you who are piano teachers can share this with your beginner students to enable them to create beautiful piano soundscapes before they can even read music notation!

Now, let’s find out how to apply some rhythm patterns to this progression.

Contemporary Patterns for Sad Piano

In this section we will explore different ways to play the notes of this progression in succession instead of whole notes. The first example applies a simple 8th note pattern that creates a little momentum without adding much playing complexity.

Improvise Sad Piano Technique 1

Sad Piano Technique 1


Great job! Now, let’s see how we can add some variety to pattern without disrupting the texture.

Improvise Sad Piano Technique 2

Did you notice that the B♭ in the right hand at the beginning each measure functions like a simple melody?  In the following example, this note has been changed to a G every other measure to give that melody a little more shape.

Express Sadness Piano Technique 2


Your doing a great job! Another way to vary this progression is by changing the order in which you cycle through the bass notes. This essentially reorders the chords in the progression and opens up additional possibilities.

Don’t forget you can download the entire lesson sheet for this Quick Tip from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily change the key of this material using our Smart Sheet Music.

Now let’s explore a different texture with this progression.

Improvise Sad Piano Technique 3

Our third example is more on the intermediate level and uses a quarter note accompaniment in the left hand paired with an 8th note ostinato in the right hand. An ostinato is simply the musical term for a repeating melodic or rhythmic pattern. In this case, the pattern is both melodic and rhythmic. As you practice this example, look for opportunities to shape the sonic texture by varying your dynamics. You should also experiment with adding the sustain pedal. Be sure to release and reapply the pedal at the beginning of each bar as the chord changes.  This is called “clearing the pedal.”

Sad Piano Technique 3


Nice job! You can learn more contemporary piano accompaniment patterns like this in our Pop Piano Learning Tracks (Track 1, Track 2). We also have a full-length course on Piano Pedal Essentials that covers 4 pedaling techniques in 22 different styles!

Now, let’s look at another example.

Improvise Sad Piano Technique 4

In this example we are going to combine the melodic idea from Technique 2 with the texture of Technique 3 to create another variation. Take a look below:

Sad Piano Technique 4


Nice work! By now you’re probably starting to see that there are vast possibilities available to create extremely rich piano sounds from even the simplest material.

If you enjoyed this Quick Tip, then you will love our full-length Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment courses. For late beginner or early intermediate players, the following two course are a great place to explore next:

If you are more of an intermediate or advanced pianist, consider the following courses:

Thanks for learning with us—see you next time!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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