#1
I'm self-taught for about 3 1/2 years. My practice basically has included:
- reading on theory
- working on minor pentatonic and major scales and trying to get comfortable with it all over fretboard without being limited to boxes (and using these to practice soloing / jamming over backing tracks)
- learning a lot of chord progressions from popular songs in different genres (over 100) from UG's tabs

After reading about the importance of ear training, I've spent some time over the last 6 months working out from ear / memory some melodies or riffs. It takes a bit of time, but I can see improvement.

Also, I sometimes just let the radio run (Pandora) and trying to play with whatever song is on. I can find the key pretty quickly, and maybe figure out the lyrical melodic line or some riffs. But what I cannot ever seem to do is work out the chord progression. I mean, knowing what key it is in limits my options and I wind up just randomly trying out the "usual suspects" (I-V-vi-IV for example) in that key, but that's basically just guess-work, even if I get it right, it's not using my ear.

At this point, I am totally lost how to "hear" what chord progression is going on in these songs. It seems very common that there is no so much a clear "chord" being played in each measure, but instead the various instruments are playing partials, overlapping riffs, and stuff, that I suppose altogether indicates a particular chord. But I just cannot process all the different tones / notes from the different instruments and deduce a particular chord from them. Is this something that takes a long time to develop, or am I just not doing it right?

I've read some theory stuff on how to write a song starting with a melody then determining what chord progression "fits" it. I have never done that myself (if I write songs, I start with chord progression first). But it made me wonder if I'm supposed to listen and figure out the melodic line and from that I somehow apply theory concepts to "deduce" what chord progression would best fit it -- basically figuring out the progression by deduction after figuring out the melody by ear, rather than figuring out the progression directly by ear.

Is this a common problem, because I cannot recall ever reading about anyone else struggling in particular with chord recognition by ear, versus just general difficulty pickup out notes, phrases, etc.

It does not help that a lot of chords have lot of overlap, like C and G have 2 out of 3 notes in common, like I think it can be very difficult to tell a Dm7 from F for example (3 out of 4 common notes?), and if you have a rhythm guitar playing Dm7 while there's an F being sung or played by another instrument, forget about it.

Is this really as hard as it seems, or is it only hard when songs don't have whole chords played by single instruments but instead have different instruments playing chord partials to jointly create the chord progression?

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#2
I listen to the bass. Most of the time, but not always, that tells me what the root is. Then I try what the rules of theory say it should be. It's pretty easy for the feel to tell me whether it's major or minor. Then if it's not a simple major or minor I have to start really paying attention. If I can't hear the guitar then I listen to other instruments or lead instruments. Then If I still can't figure it out I start looking for help online.

When I was young I found it very hard to play along with the radio. Nowadays it's quite a bit easier but I still get stumped sometimes. I don't even make an attempt at Jazz. Then I've found some of the most confusing music out there is Christmas music. Luckily for all of us we have the internet. I think the only way someone could learn to do it all is get lessons for the rest of your life.

Don't feel bad about about getting help from the internet. If you learn from others it will all start falling into place before too long. Don't let frustration become a habit. There are no rules stating what a person should know at any given point in their musical education. Youtube is the absolute wonder of the ages as far as getting musical education. You may not find the exact thing you're looking for but you'll find something that points you in that direction.
Last edited by stueycaster at Feb 6, 2015,
#3
You just need to figure out more progressions by ear or just read some sheet music with the chord symbols on it while listening.

I've been doing ear training for like a year and I can recognize most of the common chord progressions by ear. Something like I - vi - IV - V or i - iv - V - i are easy for me to hear now.

And yeah, listening to the bass is good advice. If there are no inversions, this gives away the chord progression quite easily.
#4
Quote by Elintasokas
You just need to figure out more progressions by ear or just read some sheet music with the chord symbols on it while listening.

I've been doing ear training for like a year and I can recognize most of the common chord progressions by ear. Something like I - vi - IV - V or i - iv - V - i are easy for me to hear now.

And yeah, listening to the bass is good advice. If there are no inversions, this gives away the chord progression quite easily.


Most experienced musicians that I know think of it as numbers. @Elintasokas is right about recognizing common progressions. a 1-4-5 progression in C is C-F-G. In E 1-4-5 is E-A-B. It simplifies things.
#5
This is also something that I struggle with. I seem to be able to find the melody a lot easier than the chords, but I have found a few things that have helped me with the chords.

First, is to use your theory knowledge, which you are already doing. I would say that using your theory knowledge in conjunction with your ear, is still using your ear. Very few people will hear an F major chord and immediately know it is an F (perfect pitch). Rather, they have found the key and know that F is in the key.

Second, is learning how to distinguish between chord qualities (Maj, Min, Dim, etc.). I use a site called teoria.com to test my ear. Particularly the triad training (https://www.teoria.com/en/exercises/c3e.php ) which quizzes you on the chord quality of the triad being played. I have found that to be a really nice way to learn the chords. If you can identify a chord as minor and know you are in the key of C, you know you have three likely options (Am, Em, and Dm). Of course there are non-diatonic chords, but using the key and the chord quality is a good starting point.

Third, as previously mentioned, listen to the base note. If you know the base note and the chord quality, you know the chord! Watch out for inversions though!

Take my response with a grain of salt as I am currently developing this skill as well, but I thought I would share what I am doing.

Cheers!
#6
Quote by stueycaster
I listen to the bass. Most of the time, but not always, that tells me what the root is. .


This is spot on.

Start with the bass note and then work out what kind of chord it is.

You'll get better at it with time.

It helps to know basic major scale theory and chord progression naming to quickly grasp what is going on. Most popular songs are very simple and formulaic from a progression standpoint.
#7
It's been said above, but go for the Roman numerals.

Learning what I VI II V sounds like is much easier than learning what C Am Dm G sounds like.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#8
Yeah. Learn about chord functions.

Also, as others have said, listen to the bass. I would say it is the most important chord tone. You don't usually need anything else than melody and bass to hear chords.

I remember when I just didn't know what to listen to in chord progressions. I just tried listening to the chord as a whole. But then I got it - it's the bass note that I should pay most attention to. Sing the bassline.

At first it may just be trial and error. Your ear won't get great in a blink of an eye. You need to play by ear to get good at it. Maybe writing your own chord progressions could help too.

Try finding the bass note on your guitar. Try singing it. Then figure out if it's major or minor or something else. Maybe the bass is not playing the root? When it comes to basic triads, there's three possible bass notes - root is the most common, third is not that rare, fifth is the least common. (Though it is used in chord progressions like C-Em/B-Am, etc. I6/4 is also pretty common when played right before the V chord - you could actually look at it as a suspension rather than a separate chord.) And of course the bass note doesn't have to be a chord tone but most of the time it is.

Know which chords are diatonic to which keys. That makes it easier.

But yeah, you'll get better at it if you just do it a lot. Most mainstream stuff is something like I-V-vi-IV. And once you can recognize that progression, you'll start hearing it everywhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ
Quote by AlanHB
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#10
I agree about listening for the bass, or, alternatively, the root of the chord.

The functional ear trainer will help, too, as far as getting that intuitive sense of when a chord is serving a given function.

Take it one step at a time.

First, find the root of the chord. Second, figure out the quality of the chord.

You'll probably get thrown by inversions for a little while with this approach, but eventually you'll figure them out.

What are some songs you've struggled with in this area? (It'd definitely help us figure out how to help you to hear some examples of songs that give you trouble.)

And lastly: mixing your ear and theory knowledge is just fine! You'll find, with experience, that you lean on theory less and less, and you'll recognize some basic moves (I-vi, V-I, I-IV) without having to think about them. Again, learning to hear functionally will really make a difference here - but if you can figure out the key from listening that's the first step.
#11
Figure out the key, and listen. Use your ears. Don't use theory, except as you said, to narrow down your options. After a while, you get to recognize a lot of the chord functions just by hearing them, you'll know what roman numeral it is. When a chord comes along, find any notes you can hear. A chord will just be a bunch of notes stacked. So, a melody will either be an arpeggio, or it will indicate a change of chord extension, or it will indicate a chord change.

If you know the key, just pick out what you can hear, and the options are pretty limited from there, especially if you get a couple of notes you can definitely hear. Then you can see if it sounds right.

If I am doing this, and want the exact inversion and have trouble, I play the part back, and pick out every individual note and I stack them.

Earing it out at normal speed can be a bit more tough, because the chord doesn't stay long, so I don't worry so much about the correct inversion.

I don't use pandora but, if it doesn't let you stop and playback, that's probably not the best for practicing. Ideally you could have something you could play over and over, and then notice what you weren't hearing when you get it, and learn that way. If you hear a song, fail to ear it out, and it goes away, you didn't learn anything except for that you can't ear that song out yet.
#12
Yep.

There's two things you want to look for:

1. The chord progression in key-less analysis (roman numerals, and root movement when that breaks down, i.e jazz)

2. The chord quality itself. Ask yourself questions, like:

Major or minor? (diminished) Those differences should be somewhat obvious.

Is there a 7? Is it a maj7 or b7 above the root?

Is the 5th altered?

Are there any other chord tones? (9 11 13) Are they altered?


Like anything else in this field, its a trained skill. Start figuring out simple tunes, it gets a tiny bit easier every time.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#13
Quote by krm27
I'm self-taught for about 3 1/2 years. My practice basically has included:
- reading on theory
- working on minor pentatonic and major scales and trying to get comfortable with it all over fretboard without being limited to boxes (and using these to practice soloing / jamming over backing tracks)
- learning a lot of chord progressions from popular songs in different genres (over 100) from UG's tabs

After reading about the importance of ear training, I've spent some time over the last 6 months working out from ear / memory some melodies or riffs. It takes a bit of time, but I can see improvement.

Also, I sometimes just let the radio run (Pandora) and trying to play with whatever song is on. I can find the key pretty quickly, and maybe figure out the lyrical melodic line or some riffs. But what I cannot ever seem to do is work out the chord progression. I mean, knowing what key it is in limits my options and I wind up just randomly trying out the "usual suspects" (I-V-vi-IV for example) in that key, but that's basically just guess-work, even if I get it right, it's not using my ear.

At this point, I am totally lost how to "hear" what chord progression is going on in these songs. It seems very common that there is no so much a clear "chord" being played in each measure, but instead the various instruments are playing partials, overlapping riffs, and stuff, that I suppose altogether indicates a particular chord. But I just cannot process all the different tones / notes from the different instruments and deduce a particular chord from them. Is this something that takes a long time to develop, or am I just not doing it right?

I've read some theory stuff on how to write a song starting with a melody then determining what chord progression "fits" it. I have never done that myself (if I write songs, I start with chord progression first). But it made me wonder if I'm supposed to listen and figure out the melodic line and from that I somehow apply theory concepts to "deduce" what chord progression would best fit it -- basically figuring out the progression by deduction after figuring out the melody by ear, rather than figuring out the progression directly by ear.

Is this a common problem, because I cannot recall ever reading about anyone else struggling in particular with chord recognition by ear, versus just general difficulty pickup out notes, phrases, etc.

It does not help that a lot of chords have lot of overlap, like C and G have 2 out of 3 notes in common, like I think it can be very difficult to tell a Dm7 from F for example (3 out of 4 common notes?), and if you have a rhythm guitar playing Dm7 while there's an F being sung or played by another instrument, forget about it.

Is this really as hard as it seems, or is it only hard when songs don't have whole chords played by single instruments but instead have different instruments playing chord partials to jointly create the chord progression?

Ken


Hey Ken,

I don't know what you might be doing that's different from what I do, and I can pretty much instantly figure out "most" songs, or get pretty close.

So, with your background, I don't know if you're just stacking on some "complex" songs and hitting a wall, but what I do is figure out the key. Then I listen to the "moves" I can hear a I IV or I vi, or I bVII right away and from there listen to mtion, and function. Also chord types, was that a minor chord, etc. Then if I may miss a chord in the middle, I isolate the bass, and check it, is it a root or an inversion? Only then do I look at modal interchange, borrowing, etc. I find most songs simple.

Only when it's not guitaristic, and its more piano or synth based, and layered with all sorts of things going on, will it take a little longer.

What's your approach?

Best,

Sean