View Full Version : ear training for chords?

Jul-14-2005, 8:33am
I am really getting the hang of picking up melodies by ear. The CD I discussed in an earlier thread (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST&f=12&t=25840) has really helped me learn to remember ("hum and repeat") melodies while I play. I already had a knack for being able to find notes and practice is making that go even smoother.

But chords are another matter entirely. I am really having trouble figuring out how to replicate a rhythm if it isn't a variation of a common pattern like I-IV-V. Any pointers or resources?


Jul-14-2005, 11:14am
I have a brainstorm. Or an electrical storm in my brain - You be the judge. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif Strictly addressing ear training -

You know the difference between the sound of a major and a minor chord. And you know the sound of a I-IV-V, just major triads. Starting there, I think the task is to learn to recognize the II, III, VI and VII.

If you can hear the I major, the VI is the relative minor of that. Like a C major chord is the I, so you should be able to hear the A minor chord in relation to that C major at the drop of a hat. Now you have the I, IV, V, and VI by ear. Four down. Three to go.

If you can hear the IV, the II is the relative minor of that. So you should be able to hear the D minor as the relative minor of the F major chord. Now you have the I, II, IV, V, and VI by ear. Five down. Two to go.

If you can hear the V, the III is the relative minor of that. So you should be able to hear the E minor as the relative minor of the G major chord. Now you have the I, II, III, IV, V, and VI by ear. Six down. One to go.

For this discussion the VII is in a class of its own.

So my point is, expand off what you recognize in the majors I-IV-V and fill in the blanks. Once you recognize the minors II, III, and VI, you've got the tools to recognize II-V-I's, III-VI-II-V-I's etc.

I apologize in advance if this misses the mark. Sounds like a good thing to do.

Ken Sager
Jul-14-2005, 11:49am
Groveland has terrific ideas. If your melody practice is helping improve your ability to play melodies, you'll have to simply practice playing more chords to improve your chord playing ability.

One way to pick up chords is to listen to what the bass is doing. If you know a tune is in a particular key you'll know what chords are likely to be used and the bass will almost always land on the root of that chord on the downbeat.

When the bass walks down from a root it's likely walking to the relative minor. If a major chord is walked up two halfsteps to another major chord it's either going from the IV to V or from the I to IImajor (which 99.9% of the time goes next to the V7 and resolves to the I). Walking up two halfsteps from a major to a minor is going to be either a I to IIm, or V to VIm.

Here's the most basic advice I can offer: Play more chords for awhile. Focus your studies on chord charts looking for the common transitions. If you've got an ear for picking up melodies you'll very likely have the same success picking up chord transitions if you focus on it.

Good luck,

Jul-14-2005, 11:59am
Interesting. I just looked at a link I had saved off on chord progressions (http://www.mikeperryweb.com/chords/index2.html) and found that I had a pretty good resource already bookmarked. But it keys off the bass, and there isn't always a bass (my tastes are all over the map, not just blues and bluegrass) and when trying to do a song from memory I often don't really have the bass in my head as a seperate component like rhythm and melody.

I can tell the haunting minors and edgy 7 chords, but the jazzy types that try to set a record for longest abbreviation for a chord played on four courses throw me off.

Jul-14-2005, 12:06pm
Steve Vai has a good idea applying to chord types rather than progressions:

1) make a list from 1 to 100
2) write down what chords you are trying to hear better
3) Turn on your recorder, announce "number one" and play it

go up to 100...you won't remember the whole sequence!

Play it back and write down what you hear. Compare lists. Repeat until fluent.

You can do the same with chord progressions too- maybe make number one a I IV II V or something...100 progressions like that...it'll keep you off the street :cool:

Jul-14-2005, 1:44pm
go up to 100...you won't remember the whole sequence!
Yipes! 100 chords? #Great idea, but, 100 chord types?

I could only list about 57 distinct chord types if I tried. #The Real Book lists about 65 (not including slash chords), and some are just special voicings of others. 100 chords? #Theoretically, there might be very roughly ~384 possible chord types (my calcs, YMMV), but a whole lot of that is redundant or not useful.

What am I missing? Tell me more! (Read this as not disputing the number, just a request for info...)

Jul-14-2005, 2:47pm
ok, a little secret (not really) but to hear chords, you MUST be able to hear intervals. start with basic interval training (the distance between 2 notes). this is usually all that is required for hearing basic chords. you need to be able to hear (and singing is better) #the interval of a minor 3rd vs major 3rd etc, all the way thru the musical spectrum. it is FAR EASIER to learn and recognize the intervals than 100+ chords, because, as everyone will soon realize, chords of different inversion can really sound different to the untrained ear. once you can recognize the intervals that make them up, then you gain an extra step for less work.
now this may be different for each intrument, but remember, for mandolin, you only have 4 sets of strings. often chord tones must be eliminated. so you are tring to hear a chord from a guitar / piano, and he has more strings and voicing options than you do. thats why i find the interval method the best as it crosses over to all instruments.

as far as chord progressions, i once made a list of the 25 most commonly found progressions you would encounter in most tunes. music will more than likely follow one of these progressions. it has amazed me over the years that 90% of all tunes will follow one of those 25 progressions - when i say progessions, i dont mean the whole song, but just movement between certain chords (ie, where does a E chord go to get BACK to a G? well there are only a few "musical" ways to get there, one of the more common is walking down a cycle E>A>D>G - that progression is in HUNDREDS of tunes (Salty Dog, Sweet Georgia Brown, etc, etc)

John Flynn
Jul-15-2005, 9:18am
Dan Huckabee's instructional DVD "The Formula of Music" has a good, user-friendly, very basic section on hearing different kinds of chords and what each chord in a key "accomplishes" in a piece of music and how to tell when the melody is leading you to different chord. Even though he only covers the basic chords, a person could use his approach on thier own to tackle the more esoteric chords.

Jul-16-2005, 11:29pm
Last semester in music theory our teacher taught us a little trick in figuring out chords to songs. I'll try to explain the best I can.

First off, in most cases in bluegrass or any other style of music you start with I (sometimes not though). So usually that will give you a starting point and a very good possiblity for a key. If you can hum or use an instrument to match the pitch than you can basically figure out which chord it is. Now here's the little trick.
Working off the scale of the first chord and assuming that is your key you can figure out every other chord that follows.

Ex: you figure out the first chord is a Cmaj...so your I, IV, V would be Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gmaj. Then the next chord is played and you hum the 1(always start humming or playing the 1 and go from there), however it's not a I chord but the 1(or C is in it), well you then try and see if it is a IV chord(usually it will be). The reason why you hum the 1© when it's a IV chord...because the IV is also built off the 1, just in thirds backwards instead of forwards(C,A,F). Now for the next chord...you hear it and it's a I lets say. Most likely when it goes back to the I you can figure that out real quick for obvious reasons. Then the next chord comes, but it's not a I and there is no C in it. Since most likely you are listening to bluegrass or something pop the next place to look is at a V chord. Start humming the 1 and then go down to a 7. If it matches then you have a V chord, most often.

However sometimes there are different chords in songs other than I, IV, or V. Here's the basic chart to that shows what chords are with the 7, with the 1, and are with the 2
7: V, iii, vii
1: I, IV, vi
2: II
So if you hum a 7 and it matches then there are 3 possible chords and so on.

Take a basic song you already know like a fiddle..8th of January...just start humming and naming what the chord is built around since you already know the chords. The chords for part one go D, G, A, D...so you would say(in pitch) 1, 1, 7, 1. Try it, you'll be amazed in how many chords you can start picking out and then in no time you'll just hear them.

Jul-17-2005, 9:51am
Not 100 chord types, just however many you want to deal with- i'd start with the 4 basic triad types maj/min/aug/dim and expand to the 5 basic 7th chord types maj7/min7/dom 7/ min7b5/dim. Then I'd just bounce around like this:

1) Bbm7
2) C#m7b5
3) D7
4) Fmaj7

etc. mixing and matching as you go. You learn to hear the individual sounds first, and then how they sound in and out of context.