Like every loyal guitar player, my primary genres that I listen to and love to play are rock and blues, but like most people, I have a taste for pop music, from artists like Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Rihanna, etc. What I find in pop music is that when a lot of it is engineered synth sound, it can be difficult to hear the chords of the song and figure them out. Any ideas to improve my ability to hear the right chord changes? I would appreciate if anyone can tell me the approach they use.
It can be a bit that way sometimes... usually if I get stuck on a particular chord I will listen for the chord changes around that chord, ie: what chord(s) preceed that chord, and what chords follow that chord, and maybe try to get an overall feel/tonality ie: what scales (accidentals) are being used... and use a sort of 'process of elimination' going through chords from that particular scale or scales.

I also try humming the tune all by itself and see if it reveals any particular scale/sound (and also hum the bass line - or something close enuff to it) and see where that leads me. If i'm really stuck, I will jam around the progression and keep noodling until somethings sticks, but all that was just off the top of my head... but yeah I know what you mean.

There's an interesting-ish article analyzing the music to Bonnie McKee's (haha) Teenage Dream, for example the article explains how the song never uses the I Chord, but transforms it into a IV7 and never returns to home... that's kinda clever! you gotta remember that these guys base their careers around this sort of thinking (catchy melodies and addictive hooks)... and perhaps illustrates why we sometimes struggle to grab those pesky chords and changes from time to time.

Here's the article:
Analyzing Teenage Dream

Hope it helps!
^ A bit out of topic...

So a basic two chord vamp is supposed to be "genius"? I'm not sure if the songwriters really think about this kind of things (at least this deeply). I think what made Teenage Dream catchy was its chorus. That's the only part I remember from the song. It's all about writing a singable chorus. And what makes this chorus recognizable is the rhythm. Also, the melody is not hard to sing along with. I'm not sure if the melodies are that thought out. I think you write the most singable melodies by just singing what's in your head over the chords. If you start thinking too much, the melody stops being "melodic".

Also the writer of the article talked about Paranoid. Paranoid was written really fast in the studio and Ozzy just started singing a melody over the guitar riff. It wasn't thought at all. I would say that Paranoid is so popular because it's really simple and it has a recognizable guitar riff (just like Smoke on the Water). It also appeals to those who aren't heavy metal or Black Sabbath fans and who may not like their more complex songs.

I don't know, I just don't like that site. I have seen two analysis and both of them have felt a bit wrong to me.

Lol, sorry for my rant.

But TS, figure out the bass first. Bass usually plays root notes. And if it doesn't, it is most of the time the third or the fifth of the chord. It is hard (at least in the beginning) to listen to a chord as a whole. You need to know what to listen to in the chord. Also, if a chord has something else than the root as its bass note, it will have a different kind of sound. It won't sound that "stabile".
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Apr 27, 2014,