Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Reharmonization
Music Style
  • Contemporary
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Music has a powerful way of expressing emotions of the heart that surpass language. This is particularly true of bittersweet emotions like sending a child away to college or giving your daughter’s hand in marriage. As a pianist and arranger, there is no better way to represent this emotional paradox of longing and satisfaction than with The Sorrow Chord. Today, you’ll learn how to apply this beautiful minor chord voicing in common chord progressions to elevate your piano playing into the sublime. You’ll learn:

  • Constructing The Sorrow Chord in 2 Steps
  • Applying The Sorrow Chord in 2 Chord Progressions

Make no mistake—while the sorrow chord is a beautiful minor chord for expressing sadness or longing in music, you will surely have your bandmates smiling from ear-to-ear after you debut this chord at your next rehearsal.

Let’s jump in.

What is The Sorrow Chord?

Your music dictionary probably doesn’t have an entry for “sorrow chord.” However, you’ve likely heard it used by some of your favorite pianists and producers. The Sorrow Chord is the name Jonny uses to describe his favorite minor chord voicing. This beautiful minor chord is also known as a minor 11 chord. It frequently occurs in contemporary, gospel, and smooth jazz styles. Take a listen below.

The Sorrow Chord Minor 11 Voicing Barry Harris

Whoa! What an indescribable sound! In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at how to build this chord.

Building the Most Beautiful Minor Chord

You might be thinking that The Sorrow Chord looks pretty intimidating to learn. However, you can learn to transform any minor chord into the sorrow chord in just two steps.

Step 1: Stack Five 3rds

The easiest way to build a minor 11 chord is to simply stack five 3rds above the root. In fact, this works especially well when constructing the sorrow chord as a 2 chord or a 6 chord because all the chord tones occur naturally within the key signature.

Step 1 Stack Five 3rd (ii and vi) diatonic minor 11 chords

You may sometimes also see the 3 chord voiced as a sorrow chord, but it will require an accidental.

Step 1 Stack Five 3rds (3 chord) mediant

Another way to easily build a minor 11 chord is as view it as the combination of two more familiar triads. For example, to build a D minor 11 chord, play a D minor triad in root position with your left hand. Next, play a C Major triad in your right hand. The result is a minor 11 chord, or the sorrow chord. Notice that the root of the major triad in your right hand is the pitch that is a whole step below the root in your left hand. In fact, you can play any minor 11 chord by simply combining a minor triad in your left hand with the major triad in your right hand that is a whole step below the root.

The Sorrow Chord as Two Triads

Step 2: Re-Order the Notes

While a minor 11 chord sounds plenty rich in closed position, the chord really sounds remarkable when its notes are spread out across the keyboard. In this step, we’ll show you how to re-order the notes to maximize the paradoxical harmonic effect. In the diagram below, the number in the square box represents the chord tone in relation to the root. For the sake of simplicity, the compound intervals of the 9th and the 11th are represented by their simple interval equivalents of the 2nd and the 4th.

Step 2 Re-Order Notes how to play beautiful minor 11 chord

That sounds great! If you are enjoying this lesson, you will love our full-length course on Piano Chord Extensions which demystifies even more advanced contemporary jazz chords. Now, let’s apply this minor 11 chord voicing to some common chord progressions.

Applying The Sorrow Chord to Progressions

Let’s look at two examples of common chord progressions in which we can apply The Sorrow Chord. We’ll be in the key of C Major.

Progression 1

Our first progression frequently occurs in ballads when moving from the 1 chord to the 6 chord with a descending stepwise bass line.

Progression 1 - Basic

The prolonged 6 chord in this progression provides the perfect opportunity to apply the sorrow chord. Here is the same progression with an A minor 11 in place of the A minor triad. Notice the melody note on the G/B chord has been slightly modified provide a smoother line.

Progression 1 - Transformed Beautiful Minor Chord Sorrow Chord Am11

Fantastic! Now, let’s put that in context of a rhythm section with backing track 1. The lesson sheet and backtracks that accompany this lesson are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson with the click of a button using our Smart Sheet Music.

Progression 2

Similarly, we can apply The Sorrow Chord on a prolonged 2 chord. The basic version of Progression 2 moves from the 4 chord down to the 2 chord with a descending stepwise bass line.

Progression 2 - Basic

Now, let’s apply The Sorrow Chord in place of the D minor triad. Notice that this time the melody has been modified to feature a deliberate common tone (G).

Progression 2 - Transformed Beautiful Minor 11 Chord Dm11

Good work. You’re ready to play this progression with backing track 2.

Congratulations, you made it to the conclusion of today’s lesson! If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out the following related courses:

Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you again soon!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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