From learning new songs to memorising music to improvising, learning to recognise and play chords by ear can make a lot of things easier for any guitarist.
Fortunately, with a little bit of work, anyone can develop this skill. If you approach ear training in the right way you can start recognising chords in the not too distant future.
There are 2 pieces of information that tell us how a chord sounds:
1. The scale degree of the root note
2. The quality of the chord (Major, minor, dominant 7th etc)
It doesn't matter whether you're talking about a major chord built on the tonic, or a b9#11 chord built on the b2nd scale degree - the scale degree of the root note and the quality of the chord tell us what that chord is in any tonal setting.
So how can you recognize the chords you hear?There are 3 steps to recognizing any chord:
1. Identify which note is the root note of the chord
2. Recognize the scale degree of the root note
3. Identify the quality of the chord
If you'd like to recognize and play chords by ear, you'll need to master each step.
1. Put a track on and try to sing the root note of each chord.If you find this difficult, it's the first skill you need to master.
Practice playing chords on your guitar, and sing the root note of each one. As you do this, you'll get better at identifying the root note of any chord you hear.
2. Recognize the scale degree of the root noteScale degrees (or solfege) are the number one tool for identifying any notes or chords in most of the music we listen to and play.
Use the techniques from my previous lesson on Tonality Based Ear Training to improve your ability to identify the scale degree of the root note once you find it.
3. Identify the quality of the chordPractice playing major, minor, diminished and any other types of chords you hear regularly. Listen to the way that they sound and try to memorise the sound of each one. You can get a friend to test you as well to see how you're going (or use ear training software).
The final technique:
4. Practice it all togetherFinally, practice all 3 steps together. Play simple chord progressions. While you do this, make sure you sing the root note of each chord and identify the scale degree of the root note and the quality. With practice you'll soon start to notice familiar sounds while you're playing or listening to music!
Good luck with it:)
About the Author:
Scott Edwards is the founder of EarTrainingHQ.com. He has helped hundreds of musicians to train their ears and become better players by breaking the process of ear training down into easy to follow steps so it is simple and easy to progress, and providing effective, targeted exercises for each step along the way.