Recognizing Chord Progressions By Ear

Have you ever wished you could write out a chord chart by ear with just one listen through a song?

Learning to recognize chord progressions by ear will be a huge benefit to you for obvious reasons. The good news is, it's not impossible.

In fact, it's very doable.

Here's my #1 tip for harmonic ear training: Start at the bottom.

The bottom of what?

The bottom of the harmony. Listen for the lowest note of each chord. In band contexts, this will probably be the bass guitar or the left hand of the keyboard player.

Why is this so important?

Many of us have a tendency to focus on the melody line when we hear music. This is the natural tendency since the melody is the hook - it's the tune!

However, the melody is NOT the best indication of the underlying harmony of the song. The bass line is. The bass line is the melody you want to train yourself to hear if you want to recognize chord progressions by ear!

If you can hear the bass line and know the basics of major scale harmony, you're almost there.

All that's left is to learn to recognize the difference between root position and inverted chords (chords in which the lowest note is not the root of the chord).

So next time you sit down to listen to music, try to sing the bass line. Once you've got that down, write out the bass line (standard notation, scale degree numbers, whatever). Now fill in the chords on top of the bass line.

This is definitely a trial and error approach. However, the results will speak for themselves.

Let me know how it goes for you. Do you struggle with hearing chord progressions? Have you discovered any other useful techniques for hearing progressions? Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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