Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” Offers a Good Lesson in Harmonic Imagination

Paul Simon is among the most harmonically sophisticated of folk-pop songwriters, and this song is packed with lush chord voicings.

One morning in the mid-1970s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon woke up and suddenly the phrase “The problem is all inside your head, she said to me” popped into his head. Simon then fired up his Rhythm Ace drum machine and built on this idea to compose what would prove to be one of his most popular songs: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which first appeared on his 1975 solo album, Still Crazy After All These Years.

As Adam Levy explains in this month’s feature lesson, Simon is among the most harmonically sophisticated of folk-pop songwriters, and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is packed with lush chord voicings, especially in its intro and verse sequence, shown here in the original key of E minor. When you work through this figure, which is best played with fingerpicking, take note of the smooth movement between chords, the use of extensions like the flatted ninth, and the general moody vibe evoked by Simon’s harmonic choices.

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The chorus modulates to the relative major key, G, and is harmonically simpler and rhythmically more active. Try using a funky rhythm pattern like the one depicted here. Using a pick or thumbpick, keep your picking hand moving in a continuous, up-and-down 16th motion, releasing fretting-hand pressure at certain points for a percussive sound. The chorus also offers a chance for you to improvise fills from the G minor pentatonic scale (G Bb C D F), as heard from electric guitarist John Tropea on the original studio recording.

The text above is from Adam Perlmutter’s analysis of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar’January 2019 issue. For the full text of the article, performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy


This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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