Ideas for developing the ability to hear chord progressions by ear

from @austincassidy " Out of curiosity, do you just listen to the song and “know” what chords they are or do you play around on a piano until you find them? I’ve been having trouble developing my ear to distinguish chords."

I would start by going to

Choose any Beginner hook you like (1 green dot) (Songs that have only I, IV, V, and vi chords.)
then I would change the key to C (without looking at the chords smiley ) and try to play it on your piano. Eventually you will hear it without your Piano (note: for guitar I choose key of G).

What you find is that you will get it after about 200 (realistically that’s a good number to focus on. That’s 7 a day for a month, not too hard) Then move to the intermediate songs that have 2 green dots. (Songs that have only I, ii, iii, IV, V, and vi chords.) By now your ear should be attune to the BIG 4 chords so the other two are quite easy to pick.
Then try the more complex songs. By now your ear knows the BIG 6 and you can pick that it is out of the key which is only another 6 rootnotes to choose from. 5 weeks of hard work should see you set for life in hearing relative chords.

@chris Any chance Hooktheory could develop this kind of tool for use in the ear training section?

Anyone else got suggestions.

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@DrCav Awesome, i’m going to start tomorrow. But when the key is different than C I’ll hear the relative chords?

Each time I would change the key to C (click on key) and change to “piano” so you can hear it.
Maybe cover your computer screen with cardboard or a book so you don’t see the chords.
That way you get used to hearing just one key. This will help in itself.
Once you are comfortable dont change the key and leave the Youtube playing.

@DrCav What i meant was: When I get used to hearing just one key will I be able to get the relative chords of song in different key?
That’s when I finished practicing, I understood that while practicing i have to use only the key of C.
But I think the only way it’s starting practising and i’ll see .

@DrCav just curious, how long has it taken you to reach your level of hearing? Ive been practicing a lot lately and id say im up to the stage where I need to know borrowed chords etc but have no idea what to do. Any tips?? If you go to my tab “The pretender” by Foo Fighters, and have a look at my original revision you can see roughly where my ears are at. Thanks!

@Matte, Yes that’s exactly right. Getting used to the progression in one key will mean that you will hear the relative chords in a different key.
Great work. Let us know how you go at practising it.

@TomNicks Yeah I saw your Foo Fighters Hooks, very cool.

I turned 39 today and have been playing guitar, bass since I was 10. But not always practising/training.
I think I really took off in my ability to hear where chords were going when I was teaching guitar for a couple of years.

I think there are a few things to note.
You get better/faster at the music genres’ you most listen to/play.

I am much better at chords than melodies (guitar background). I hear chords where some of my classical musician friends struggle but when it comes to melody they can hear and replicate instantly.

Growth Mindset (google Carol Dweck) shows that your approach to your learning will impact how you go forward.

All the best,

2 questions

  1. If a song is minor should I change it to A Minor?
  2. If i’m in a song in A Minor for example, and I’m using the piano chord chart, sometimes the III (C Major) is played above I (A Minor) and sometimes below. I’m talking about the bass note. I notice these thing also in another keys.
    For example here in the Pre-Chorus and Chorus the C in the III is played below A, but when i create a new tab the C is played above. Does it confuse my ear? And when composing a song is just about how it sound in the context that is played above or below?

Yes that’s right. Use Am.

It’s great that you are picking the different voicing of C.
As long as you are picking up the “flavour” of the chord relationships.

Once you get comfortable at C (Am) start listening in the original key.

Are you noticing any improvement?
I had a go last night and I noticed that I was hearing it clearer and clearer each time I tried.

the problem is: if a song is in minor, there would be VII chords even in the Beginner section. (clear example: )

Only if you transpose to Major, the chords would consist of I, V, vi and IV.

@DrCav : what do you advise ?

@Hooktheory I don’t know if that’s a problem or a choice, but why is that?

Hmmm. I would advise that eventually Hooktheory develops up a new section in ear training for this concept.
For yourself it is fine to deal with complexity as this will assist you in the long run.

How is your ear coming along?

Personally I’ve found the MIDI Chord Helper (Desktop Version) to be of great help and a perfect complement of Hookpad when getting to familiarize yourself with the sound of a chord. The chords are arranged by circles of fifths, so diatonic chords will always stick together, relative key relationship becomes trivial, subdominant and dominant of a major key are placed right beside the tonic, and borrowing from parallel major/minor gets very obvious. It supports a much wider range of chords than Hookpad currently does, including 69, dim7, mM7, +5/-5 etc., though some extended chords and added chords are not supported.

Requires Java.


Since 200 attempts is very daunting at first. (see the first post).
Try to concentrate on two dozen attempts (24)
Apparently after 24 attempts at a single activity you get to around 80% proficiency.
(I’m not sure the parameters for this observation or evidence for this but it was quoted by Andrew Fuller relating to Brain science and learning capacity).

200 is definitely more like what it will take to master a concept.

In terms of how you listen to songs.
I turn up the bass and begin with the bass notes of chords.
Be very careful with poor computer speakers (laptop speakers) as often they miss the bass guitar frequency which is a big tell-tale signal for the chord in question.

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I agree with that maybe cover your computer screen with cardboard or a book so you don’t see the chords. I have done something similar when created music for game software in GameArt

I made an educational music game for this a few years back
I really need to redevelop it with lessons learned;-)

This is gold

This one uses actual chord progressions rather than a random sequence of chords, and also has inverted chords. The other exercises are useful as well for ear training in general.

I started learning in fragments. I first trained myself to listen for major key V-I and IV-I cadences and then worked up to additional chords such as ii-V-I, deceptive cadences, etc.

Then I did the same for minor keys, and eventually I started hearing differences and similarities. I also experimented by playing different variations just by listening with my guitar and came up with my own progressions to memorize and see if I could hear similarities with other songs.

That’s great devaski.
That’s similar to what I’m working on at the moment.
I record my self playing chords.
After I play each chord I say the number Eg strum I strum V strum vi strum ii.
I’ve noticed a big difference.
I can make it as fast as I want. Which pushes me but I still understand what’s happening.

Then I do two chords
Strum strum. IV V
Stum strum bVI bVII
Then 3 chords.

I’ve been following Beatles harmonies and introduce the chords in this order.
I IV V vi
ii iii
Then stranger chords after that.

Then I can listen without a guitar and here what is happening. This is so encouraging!!

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