It’s pretty obvious that the most important concern regarding chord progressions is to have one chord move smoothly to the next. There’s nothing worse than chords that just don’t feel right. A bad set of changes can actually kill an otherwise pretty good song. But that’s not the only job of a good progression. It’s important to know that chords help to establish a song’s groove.
Many songwriters who look for a good set of chords seem to not consider the groove factor, but it’s really vital to the life of a good song. There is a strong rhythmic component when one chord moves to another. It’s a feeling of a strong internal pulse, and it contributes greatly to a sense of forward motion.
So how does that work? Try playing the following progression. Use a fast tempo (q=136 or faster) with a strong pulse, with two beats per chord:
Now try the same progression, but repeat the first two chords several times before moving on:
Am F Am F Am F Am F // C Dm C Dm C Dm Em Am
The repeating of the first two chords (Am to F) sets up a groove that increases the energy level of your song. For symmetry, I’ve suggested the same for the C to Dm part of the progression that happens a little later on.
So when you’re looking through books of chord progressions, or trying to create some of your own, don’t assume that every chord has to be different. How do you think those 3-chord songs from the 50s and 60s worked so well? They set up a groove that gives life to your song.
So go back to those old progressions, and try repeating two or three chords before moving on. You might like what you hear.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website