Written by Gary Ewer
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When all is said and done, if you want people to really get into your song, you have to make sure that by the end of it, they really understood what was going on in it. If your song uses complex chords that don’t move forward in mostly predictable ways, they’ll turn away. Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody is a good example of simple progressions that really work.
When students show me the songs or other compositions they’re working on, one of the most common problems I see is the use of complex chord progressions that don’t work. The use of complexity comes from a fear they have that they’re going to accidentally use a progression that’s already been used before. As a songwriter, you must get over this fear, because it’s really not important. Chord progressions are not protected by copyright, and it’s that way for a reason: they’ve all been used, many, many times before.
Use Somebody is a perfect example:
C C/E F C C/E F Am C F Am C F
You know that the writers didn’t spend a lot of time figuring those chords out, and for good reason. A more complicated progression would have gotten in the way of the basic, guttural emotion. They allow themselves a short instrumental break that veers away from that progression (giving us D F#m), but other than that small diversion, it uses a very simple progression in a very simple way.
The lyrical message of Use Somebody is also simple: I’m looking for someone like you. The repetitive nature of the chords helps to drive this message home.
A complex progression is possible in songs that describe complex emotions or events, or for songs that take us on a longer journey. But if your aim is to write a 3 – 5 minute song that really captures a listener’s heart and mind, stick with progressions that make sense.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..