There are several approaches/tricks you can use to figure out chord progressions by ear...
Your ear can most easily discern the highest and lowest notes in a chord. ( it's considerably more difficult to pick out the interior notes in a chord ) If your ear is already decent, try the following method: try and isolate the bass notes of each chord in the progression – often times when you find a bass note that “works” ( meaning that it sounds good played over the chord ) but proves to be incorrect, that note is a different chord tone, usually the 3rd or 5th )
Music theory knowledge is a big aid in this process in multiple ways. A jumping off point is knowing the diatonic chords in major and minor keys. Probabilistically thinking, the simpler/more conventional a song is, the more likely it is to contain diatonic chords. In other words, a powerful tool for figuring out chord progressions is a process of elimination.
When you find a bass note that works then plug in the chord quality of the scale degree of that bass note, if the chord sounds incorrect the bass note might be a chord tone of a different chord. For ex) If the first chord in a progression is F and the second bass note is G but when you play a Gm chord it sounds wrong, ask yourself “what chord has G as a 3rd, and 5th , one of those may be the actual root. In this case G is the 3rd of E flat or the flat of Em or the 5th of C.
The melody note ( highest note of a chord ), if discerned can guide you to correct chord often too. If you identify a melody note, first check if it's a chord tone. For ex) if you identify an A note, it might be the root or an A or the 3rd of an F or the flat 3rd of the 5th of a D.
Watch this space, as my next blog will expound on this concept...
This blog is about a great songwriting tool that can be used to create interest and tension in chord progressions. For the purposes of this blog, we'll focus on adding a chord or chords between the cadence of V to I in multiple progressions. When a cadence doesn't bring you back to the 1 chord, that is called a deceptive cadence or delaying the tonic.
Four common ways to delay the tonic are to instead go to either the vi chord, the IV chord, the iii chord or the ii chord following the V chord ( dominant ). (Additionally, the iii chord is a good substitute for the I chord because 2 out of 3 notes are common to both chords, for ex) if your I chord is C, the chord tones are: C – E – G and if you substitute a iii chord, the Em chord tones are: E – G – B, the only note not common to both is the C and B respectively ) This approach, of substituting the iii chord for the I chord is often done in the following progression: I – vi – ii – V in the key of A for example, ( played here as 4 part harmony chords ) are: A maj7 – F#m7 – Bm7 – E7 – C#m7 – F#m7 – Bm7 – E7. This alternating 4 stanza chord sequence is famously played in Gershwin's classic “I got rhythm.”
Here are some examples: Instead of playing I – IV – V – I, play I – IV – V – vi or I – IV – V – IV ( in the key of C, those deceptive cadences would be: C – F – G – Am or C – F – G – F ).
ii – V – I progressions are one of the most common chord progressions in western music, especially in jazz but really in most genres ( rock, folk, blues etc ) and they are a great context to use deceptive cadences too. Instead of playing ii – V – I, play ii – V – vi or ii – V – IV or you can extend the progression by tacking either the vi or the IV chords onto the end of the ii – V – I progression.
Here are some examples in the key of G:
Typical progression: I – ii – V – I
Deceptive cadence: I – ii – V – iii – IV – V – I
Typical progression: I – I in first inversion – IV – V – I ( G – G/B – C – D – G )
Deceptive cadence: I – I in first inversion – IV – V – ii7 – flat Iimay7 – G ( G – G/B – C – D – Am7 – Aflatmaj7 – G ).
Harmonized scales/melodies are a great technique many bands like the Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Allman Brothers use to great effect.
Initially, I like to teach this concept predicated on the major generated modes, which are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. The first step is to learn those scales...
Once you've done that, I recommend you use either a loop pedal or recording software to do the following: First, record yourself playing a G major scales (up and back ) then, when you play it back, play a B phrygian scale over it, then do the same with a C Lydian scale and a D Mixolydian scale. These three harmonies, 3rds, 4ths and 5ths will sound the most familiar but still really interesting.
Next, let's harmonize a simple, diatonic melody: well go really simple here and use “Ode to Joy”. Play the first part of the melody in the G major scale shape, the notes are: B – B -C D – D – C- B – A – G – G -A – B – B – A – A. If you convert the intervals of the melody into scale degrees, you have: 3 – 3 - 4 – 5 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 1 -2 – 3 – 3 – 2 – 2. (Which, in this example are both the scale degrees AND the intervals, this will not be the case with the harmonized scales)
Now, to harmonize the melody notes from the G major scale in either 3rds, 4th or 5ths simply use the same scale degrees in the harmony scale as you did in the original melody played within the G major scale.
Ex) To harmonize in 3rds, use the B Phyrgian scale and the degrees are the same as in the G major based melody – the B is harmonized with the D and the C is harmonized with the E etc.
This blog isn't about the annoying tactic politicians use to avoid answering tough questions but is about an exciting musical technique I'll explain how to use!
I teach this technique to all my students. It has a classical-ish sound I think you'll like. In addition to sounding great, learning this technique will also greatly help your picking and left hand dexterity along with helping you become very familiar with scales and tonalities.
The formula for pivoting within a scale is very simple: begin on the root of any scale and instead of playing the scale in order ascending (ex: C - D – E – F – G – A – B ) after each subsequent note, return to the root note = C – D – C – E – C – F – C – G – C – A – C – B.
This technique works with every scale. Once you've gotten comfortably with the concept you can then apply the same idea but descending from the root = C – B – C - A – C – G – C – F – C – E – C – D
Finally, another application for pivoting is to use the 3rd or 5th as the pivot note that you return to. For example, if you're pivoting in a C major scale, play: E – D – E – C – B – E – A – E – G – E – F (descending pivot off of the third of the scale)
Pivoting is a great technique to add to your improvisational repertoire and for writing guitar or bass parts/lines – I particularly like to mix pivoting with arpeggios, the amount of variety and interest that can create is endless.
Becoming a competent, well rounded musician is hard work and truly meritocratic in the sense that if you hear a great musician there is a 100% chance that they have put in thousands of hours of practice in an efficient and focused manner. Part and parcel of that is developing good habits and approaches to all the component parts of playing your instrument.
Here's a list of several such habits and approaches, the more you adhere to these, the more you'll progress and maximize your potential: