Would you like to be able to easily and confidently play chords and chord progressions by ear?
If you play the guitar of piano I bet you would! Just imagine how much easier it would make playing if you could recognise and play any chords you hear completely by ear.
If you think this skill is reserved for ‘naturally talented’ musicians, you’ll be pleased to know that that’s not quite right. Anyone can learn how to recognize the chords they hear in music, and once you can recognize them, playing them by ear is just one small step away.
To recognise a chord by ear you need to know three things:
- Which note is the root note
- The scale degree of the root note
- The quality of the chord
It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to pop, rock, jazz, classical or anything in between. These three pieces of information will allow you to work out any chord you hear in any tonal setting so you can play it by ear.
If you can’t play chords by ear already, all you need to do is improve your ability to work out one, two or all three of these pieces of information about any chord.
Below you’ll find a simple exercise that focuses on each one and a final exercise that brings everything together.
1. Try to sing the root notes
A simple ear training rule of thumb: if you can sing something, you can hear it clearly.
So start by trying to listen for the root note of each chord in any recordings you listen to and then sing those root notes.
When you can do this well you’ll know you’re able to hear root notes clearly.
2. Learn to recognize the sound of each scale degree
Each scale degree has a unique sound, and if you learn the sound of each one you can then apply that knowledge to the root notes you’re singing. The most effective exercises for learning the sound of each scale degree are internalisation exercises. Click here to find out how they work.
3. Listen to chords on their own to practice recognizing chord qualities
Exercises with chords played individually are great for improving your recognition of chord qualities. Take a look at our Chord Quality Recognition Exercises for an example.
4. Practice it all together
The final piece of the puzzle is to practice everything together. Work out the chord progressions of your favorite songs and use exercises like our Diatonic Recognition Exercises to practice simpler versions.
It will take a little bit of time, but if you practice regularly you’ll be amazed when you start recognizing chords in music within a few months or sometimes even weeks!