Guitar Chords Ear Training From Beginner To Advanced
As a guitarist, and musician in general, being able to recognise and
distinguish chords by ear is a skill that will prove invaluable to you
and the musicians you collaborate with.
For one, it'll mean you don't need to rely on chords being written down
in front of you to know what to play. You'll be able to work out songs
as you hear them,
whether listening at home or jamming in a band
situation (your band mates will love how quickly you pick things up!).
With the chord ear training I'm about to guide you through, you'll
also develop the ability to write songs almost entirely in your head.
Sounds impossible? I can only assure you it is indeed possible, and I
will help you get there! Let's begin.
Chords - Hearing A "Flavour"
As you may already know, chords are a type of harmony - a bunch of
notes played/heard simultaneously. The first aim of chord ear training
is to develop the ability to hear both the chord as a whole unit and
its individual parts/notes (you'll see why later).
Chords come in many different forms. They offer different musical
"flavours" based on their tones. For example, a major 7th chord
sounds different to a dominant
7th chord (we'll get to that!).
It's not unwise to think of music as a kind of "food for the ears". The
ingredients are the individual notes. Different combinations of notes
come together to form different flavours. Just as a chef or foody can
identify when a particular ingredient has been used in a dish, purely
by taste, you as a musician can develop the ability to identify when a
particular note has been used, purely by ear.
So developing this skill is about sensitizing your ear to the key
ingredients that distinguish one chord from another.
Triad Ear Training - Major Vs Minor
The first and most important chord distinction to master is that
between major and minor.
Major and minor triads-
so-called because they contain just three
notes - are the most basic chords that form the basis of most songs we
know and love, and will write ourselves.
As this is an ear training course, I won't go into the theory behind
chord construction (this is covered in another series). But we need to
first be confident with distinguishing major and minor chords purely by ear.
Pitch Recognition in Chords
Take a listen to this audio clip of a major chord followed by
I'm sure you'll have heard people refer to major chords as "happy" and
minor chords as "sad".
Why is this the case? How can a simple collection of pitches evoke an
emotional response in our brains? I'll let you ponder that question in
your own time!
Whatever the physics behind it, there's no doubt we hear a difference between
the two chord types. But what creates this difference?
This time I'm going to repeatedly play the note that
is responsible for making the major chord major and the minor chord
minor. Listen closely to how that note changes the
quality of the chord...
So the only difference between a major and minor chord is one single note. One
little ingredient makes all the difference!
Now I'm going to isolate that note and then bring in the full
chords after several seconds...
Amazing, isn't it, how slightly changing one note can completely change
the quality of the chord. When you hear the note in isolation, the
change sounds very subtle, but as part of of the chord, it has much
more dramatic effect.
Why am I telling you all this? Because you need to train your ear to
pick up on the nuances that give us our different chord types/flavours.
Incidentally, the examples above involved changes between A
major and A
being our bass/root note.
But we can do exactly the same exercise on any other root/bass note:
major and E
major and D
major and B
While these chords use different notes, they all use the same
major/minor structure. Even though they sound higher/lower than the
previous/next chord, they still have that same major or minor quality.
You need to be able to recognise a major or minor chord no matter which
we play them on.
Major and Minor 3rds
So we've established that there is just one note difference between
major and minor chords on the same root.
In music theory, this difference is actually between the intervals of a
and minor 3rd,
both just one semitone (fret) apart.
In the below clip I'm back on A,
but this time I'm just playing between the root
first a major 3rd, then a minor 3rd. This is the relationship that
creates the major or minor sound respectively...
You can explore this interval difference yourself by isolating the
major 3rds (3)
and minor 3rds (b3)
in common chord shapes. Strum the whole chord followed by picking
between the highlighted intervals. Strum the chord again and try to
isolate those interval tones while hearing the whole chord...
You need to internalize the sound of these intervals so you can
recognize them no matter what root
the chord is being played on. Also try humming the interval tones
after you've played them to help with this.
Being able to identify a movement or relationship between notes like
this is known as relative pitch
recognition and is a highly beneficial skill to develop as a
The more you isolate these interval sounds in your mind, the
quicker you'll internalize them and be able to recognise them when they
occur, in both chords and melody. In other words, you'll hear the
"major sound" or "minor sound" when it's played.
Let's take this a step further...
Major to Minor (and vice versa) on Different Consecutive Roots
Most songs involve changes between major and minor chords on different roots.
This time, I'm going to play two chords, one after the other, and I
want you to identify which one is major and which is minor...
Did you get it? If you did, you'll know I (unsuccessfully) attempted to
trick you! Sorry. Both
chords were in fact major.
What about these two?
The first was major, the second minor.
If you didn't get it right, not to worry. All you need to do is work on
isolating each chord in your mind, referring back to the interval
recognition exercise from before.
Even though the chords are played one after the other, without a gap,
you need to train your ear and mind to treat them as separate chords.
They were both major this time.
Let's add a third chord to the exercise. Just like before, see if you
can identify the quality of each chord...
Major, minor, major
major, major, minor
minor, major, minor
If you want to continue with this exercise, try Fachords' brilliant chord recognition game.
It does move on to more advanced chord types, but see if you can at
least make it through the major/minor stage! The more we progress with
this course, the further you'll be able to make it through the game.
In the next part we'll be exploring other chord types. Once you can
identify individual chords, you'll be in a much better position to
figure out entire
progressions by ear, but that will be a lesson in its own
right. First, we need to be confident with recognising chord types by
then, I hope you feel you've made some progress here. Keep going over
the lesson until it sinks in. Have patience and devote some time to it
every day (or as often as you can).