I want to know when to use (i.e., situation and feel) different type of chords listed below. Could you please help me to know that?

Major - Bright - Happy Feeling, Minor - Dull - Sad feeling, Dominant 7th, Minor 7th (minor of dominant), Major 7th, 7th flat 5, 7th sharp 5, 7th flat 9, Minor 7th flat 5, Diminished, Diminished 7tth, Augmented, Major 6th, Minor 6th, Major 9th, Minor 9th, Sus2, Sus4, Added2/Added9,

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    It's not as simple as following a formula. The same chord can invoke different feelings in different listeners, and the position of that chord in between others will also change its complexion. Voicings will also have sometimes a subtle, sometimes a big effect on what just one chord does.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 8:47
  • "If it sounds good, it is good." -Shredmaster Scott Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 15:21

5 Answers 5


For the most part, using chords shouldn't be about what sound you want, but what purpose the chord has, or where it lies in the key signature. For example, you would probably use a m7b5 or diminished triad as a leading tone chord if you wanted to as a dominant functioning chord, but you wouldn't just base a m7b5 or diminished chord on the fourth scale degree, for example, just because you were in the mood for some dissonance at that particular moment, unless you had a reason for doing so (such as implying a tritone substitution).

When using altered dominant chords, think of what scale you imply when using said chord. A 7b9 would indicate some mode of harmonic minor or major, but the 7#5, 7b5, and 7#9 don't appear "naturally" in any heptatonic scale without consecutive semitones. So, experiment with those alterations, as they just add tension. If you like how it sounds, don't think you have to follow a formulaic approach.

Added tone chords, such as an add2, add4, add9, etc, add color to what would otherwise be a plain triad. If you would like to add texture to a chord, experiment with adding tones. Adding extensions to chords has the same effect. For example, turn a major chord into a maj13#11, and a minor into a min11, at the expense of having a clear and defined chord.

Suspensions do exactly what they are named to do: create suspense. Resolving a sus4 or sus2 to a triad is a great way to delay a resolution. Suspended chords also open the door to quartal and quintal harmony.

Voicings are also a way to greatly change the flavor of a chord. Make a maj7 darker in color by switching the seventh and the root, so that there is a minor 9th dissonance in the chord. Put a 2nd or 4th scale degree in the bass of a triad or seventh and experiment with how it changes the color and mood of the chord in the treble. Open your voicings with sixths instead of thirds and large spaces, or close them, favoring clusters of notes. Double certain notes to emphasize that note. Try a dominant 7th with its b9 in the bass. The possibilities to voice chords are endless.

You have listed a lot of buzzword chords, but before sprinkling them in to your work without a real understanding of them, understand where they come from. Learn basic functional harmony, and understand how chords function and experiment with how chords lead to one another. Move on to jazz harmony to understand all of those fancy extensions and alterations you named. Understand modal harmony, and try doing things such as playing with a bII chord representative of Phrygian, or a vii chord representative of Lydian. Experiment with harmonic and melodic scales and their modes, and see how diminished 7ths and augmented chords appear out of their usage.

Harmony isn't just about dragging and dropping chords, but rather the relationship between those chords, and what you build around those chords. But remember that whatever you learn or read, whether it be from a book or those YouTube channels, you should be applying it and analyzing it rather than taking what they say for granted and regurgitating it.

I have given you a few example, and if they go over your head, its OK. The answers you want simply cannot be given in one response. It requires learning on your own or with a teacher, critical thinking, and experimentation so that you can develop ideas by yourself.

  • "using chords shouldn't be about what sound you want, but what purpose the chord ..." How does the OP know what purpose to want? :) You tried to open the theoretical part which helps organizing and analyzing and managing the things... but it's an endlessly long explanation, and it won't make you develop a taste. It only helps you to describe and categorize things so you know what you like. I think the only method that helps in every case is to learn to play songs and arrangements, lots of them. Learn by example, not by theory. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 21:11

There is only one way: learn existing songs and arrangements, see how they use chords in relation to melody and rhythm, and how it makes you feel. Theory might give you ideas about which aspects to pay attention to and how to organize it all in your mind, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste and you develop a taste by tasting lots of things.


Even if there rules and receipts they would be opinion based.

If you want to learn some historical features concerning melody, chords, rhythm expressing emotions you should listen to early Madrigals, Bach Cantatas and other works, romantic songs of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Operas of Wagner, Verdi, etc. and study and analyze chords and harmony. Make your own experience and create your own sounds.

The types you mention are just stereotypes. But with your questions in mind you will watch and listen differently to movies and film-soundtracks, thrillers and sciencefiction movies, or soap opera series.


As other answers have said, there's no magic formula. Different chords in different contexts can have a different "feel" about them. For example, major keys will generally involve playing quite a few minor chords during a piece, but if they are passing or part of a sequence, they won't often have a separate "sad" feeling -- they'll be subservient to the "feeling" of the overall key.

And "major=happy" and "minor=sad" are conventions that aren't universal in all cultures and weren't even universal historically. (The modern convention probably started to become dominant in European music maybe 250-300 years ago or so.) Moreover, they aren't even true today. Numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that tempo and character have a much greater impact on "mood" than harmony in a lot of contexts: a fast, driving minor piece may feel upbeat (or at least not "sad" or "dull"), while a slow, soft major piece may sound sad and poignant.

Many composers were masters of exploiting these various parameters. I have a friend who talks about "Schubert's major" as the most depressing sound of all. He doesn't mean everywhere Schubert uses a major chord, but often specific places where Schubert has been hanging out in minor keys in his song cycles for a while, and then switches to major -- which often corresponds to the moment that your tears will start to flow, as the contrast is sometimes used to indicate something even worse than the minor that proceeded it.

It all depends on context if you want to move beyond a few really, really basic stereotypes like "major=happy," "minor=sad," "diminished=tension," "augmented arpeggios=alien invasion," and "whole-tone scale glissando=flashback" (which are not universal characteristics of chords, but learned conventions that are not universally applicable).


I think you want to be mindful of chords in isolation versus chord changes.

You can make simple associations like:

  • major = happy
  • minor = sad or angry
  • diminished = shock

But when chords are put into context with other chords you get more complex expressive possibilities and can even contradict the simplistic associations.

  • all major chords connected by chromatic mediants (ex. C, Eb, Gb all major chords) can create an agitated or mysterious mood, not necessarily all happy, happy, happy.
  • a sequence of all minor seventh chords progressing by descending fifths can create a very mellow mood not sad or angry.
  • a passing diminished chord (ex. IV #ivo7 I6/4) has a sentimental feel.

Also, remember that a lot about chord progressions is abstract and you don't get a complete expression until other musical elements are added. When a progression is given like ii6 V7 I, without any specifics about rhythm and tempo, the information is to a great degree just abstract syntax. In harmonic terms that progression is just: subdominant, dominant, tonic. It's a bit like saying: "subject verb object!" Neither has much expressive meaning until fleshed out to something specific.

"He slammed the door!" or "he carried the baby" give us different moods from the same syntactic structure. In the same way ii6 V7 I can be realized with different treatments for different moods. Played at a moderate tempo in 3/4 time with appoggiaturas might create a gentle mood. Played quickly in common time with syncopations on the V7 chord can create lots of excitement.

One thing you can do it start taking note of how chords are used in particular songs. Don't just identify the chord. Identify the chord, the musical treatment, and the resulting mood. Examples:

  • the dominant seventh chord built up in the Beatles Twist and Shout
  • the melancholy minor major seventh chord in My Funny Valentine
  • a proper dominant chord ending after modal minor like in Metallica's The Unforgiven

...the list will go on and on an on.

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