Any of you who have read my e-books, particularly my chord progression e-books, know that I often use the analogy of taking a walk to describe how a good chord progression works. It’s a good analogy for many reasons. But here’s the main one: when you take a walk, the path you’re on is like the chord progression itself. It needs to be relatively easy to navigate. If the path is too challenging, it may simply be too complicated to enjoy. At the same time, a path that’s a straight line with no ups or downs is too boring to bother with.
Chord progressions are the same. If your progression is a complicated network of complex chords, it may simply be too convoluted to follow easily. A chord progression can have challenging moments, but for most of the songs that pop, rock, country, folk or most jazz musicians might write, there needs to be enough predictability to get you from the beginning to the end without getting lost.
When you take that walk, it’s often not the path itself that makes the walk great, but rather all of the things you’ll encounter on that walk. In other words, the path should be thought of as the “conduit” that takes you to see all of the potentially wonderful things in the countryside. So a good chord progression serves as a path through which all the of the aspects of that great melody you’ve written can reside. The chords may actually be somewhat mundane, as long as the “countryside” (the melody) has some great moments.
And one other thing – That path provides you with a view of the countryside, but what one other thing does it do? It brings you home again.Make sure your chord progression is giving your listener the sense of departure and arrival that makes them feel that they’ve been somwhere wonderful. This is best done with simple progressions that allow the melody and lyrics to shine forth.
To sum it up, in the battle between simplicity and complexity, the victory should usually go to simplicity.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website