Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Chords
  • Reharmonization
Music Style
  • Contemporary
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
  • New Age
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Do you want to spark a deep emotional feeling into your listeners? Do you want them to reflect on old times and get sentimental? Or maybe even to express sadness and make them cry? If so, then you’re going to love the beautiful “Sentimental Chord Progression” for piano!

The sentimental chord progression has been used in hundreds of songs and in countless genres to evoke a sad and emotional feeling. It is a must-know chord progression for any pianist and musician.

In this Quick Tip, you’ll learn:

  • The sentimental chord progression for piano
  • To play the progression in 2 levels of complexity on the piano
  • How using motion brings new life to ordinary chord progressions
  • How to add color and enrich standard chords
  • Sheet music for each level and examples of the many songs that make use of this progression

Let’s dive in!

The Sentimental Chord Progression for Piano

Here’s the sentimental progression for piano in basic form. Try listening then playing it a few times so it gets in your head, heart, and hands:

The sentimental chord progression for piano used in many sad and emotional songs in countless genres
The sentimental chord progression for piano used in many sad and emotional songs in countless genres

If you haven’t already learned all your chords and inversions, you can check out our Beginner Piano Foundations (Part 1, Part 2).

As you can see there are many slash chords. Simply put, you have the actual chord before the slash and the bass note (lowest note) after the slash. So if you have Cm/B, then Cm is the actual chord and B is our bass note. As pianists, we’ll be playing a C minor chord and we’ll make sure that B is the lowest note in our left hand, as written in the sheet music.

An easy way to think about the above progression is that we are simply keeping the same notes on top and then changing just the bottom notes each time. Only toward the end are we changing a few of the upper notes to vary it up a bit.

The beautiful thing about the sentimental chord progression is that with each new slash chord we are moving the bass voice down 1 note chromatically.  Each time this happens the new note creates a fresh perspective on the C minor chord. This contrast between familiarity and change is what creates that emotion we’re looking for!

Remember that kind of motion within a chord is what pros do to make an ordinary chord progression sound way more interesting and new and can be done in a variety of ways.

If you want to learn more ways to do this check out this course: The Sentimental Chord Progression(Beginner/Intermediate).

So now, how can we take this chord progression to the next level?

Adding Rich Color to the Chords

Check out the next level of the sentimental chord progression for piano and then try playing it:

The sentimental chord progression for piano with more extensions, alterations, and colors added to the chords creating a jazz influenced sound
The sentimental chord progression for piano with more extensions, alterations, and colors added to the chords creating a jazz-influenced sound

As you can see, the chord progression is very similar but we’re presenting things a bit differently and adding more color to the chords. Instead of using mainly triads we now add 7ths, extensions, alterations, and other techniques to enrich the chords. It’s still all the same chord progression but now it has more rich color!

The thing that pros know is that no matter what extensions or alterations you add to the original chords, it will not change the outline of the original progression. It is like how two artists can paint the exact same image, but one may use many more colors and bring it out in a different way than the other.

If you would like to know more about 7ths, extensions, and other techniques to bring out your chords, then check out the Intermediate Piano Foundations Track.

One of the techniques to play these colorful chords more easily is to use common chord shapes such as rootless voicings, which are used everywhere in this second level of the chord progression.

You’ll also notice that we’ve removed the descending chromatic line in the bass and instead remain on C for the first two bars. When we use a common bass note over several chords it is called a pedal tone.  This is a very common technique used possibly for as long as music has existed.

But did that cool descending chromatic line disappear? No, we simply moved it to one of the middle lines instead of the bass for a contrasting effect! Check it out below:

The sentimental chord progression for piano descending chromatic line moved from bass to a middle voice
The sentimental chord progression for piano descending chromatic line moved from bass to a middle voice

Further Expanding the Chord Progression

Now, I recommend practicing the above until it becomes easy. You can download the sheet music to reference what we went over and also find examples of songs that use this progression.

I also recommend you then do it in other keys to really internalize the progression. Download the smart sheet to transpose the chord progression into any key.

This progression is so important to know because it is used everywhere and in virtually every genre. It’s been used in chord progressions for songs such as Chim Chim Cher-ee, My Favorite Things, Stairway to Heaven, Feelin’ Good, and Eleanor Rigby, just to name a few.

I challenge you to listen to see if you can find it in other songs that you know and love!

Remember that this is an accompaniment lesson, and you’ll certainly want to be able to play it in more ways than just held out chords. Check out the full workshop on the sentimental chord progression (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced), where I go over in full detail how to play this progression in multiple ways. This includes:

  • 4 different Pop Approaches
  • 3 Different Jazz Approaches
  • Swing, Bossa Nova, Latin
  • New ways of harmonizing the progression
  • Soloing over the progression with different scales and patterns
  • Beautiful ostinatos and more!

So if you are really interested in taking your playing to the next level and want to play this awesome progression with all the tools and freedom like a pro, check out that full workshop. I also recommend these other awesome chord progressions and related topics every pianist should know:

Thanks so much for checking out this Quick Tip. Happy practicing!

Your Teacher,

Jonny May

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