“I’m a guitar player and I play guitar in open jam sessions.
Got any tips on how to ‘hear the chord changes’ when playing live with other musicians?”
Focus on the bass line.
99% of chords are played in ‘root postition’ – which means the root is the lowest note in the chord.
So if the chord is C minor – you’d expect C in the bass.
If the chord is Eb major – you’d expect Eb in the bass.
And so on.
So if you can identify the bass note – then you can figure out the chord above.
However, the bass note alone doesn’t tell you what type of chord it is…
It could be major, minor, diminished, V7, etc.
So that’s where your ‘KNOWLEDGE OF SCALE’ is also important…
Knowledge of Scale:
Before you can play any music by ear – you have to know the landscape that music is written in…
And for chord progressions, that means memorizing the chords that are found within the key.
Here are the 7 chords found in C minor / Eb major:
Once you’ve memorized these chords, then the bass note is all you need to ‘hear the changes’:
Hearing a C in the bass – means the chord is C minor.
Hearing Bb in the bass – means Bb major.
Ab in the bass – means Ab major.
F in the bass – means F minor.
This will work for 95% of music.
How to Tanscribe a Bass Line:
But how do you know what notes the bass is playing?
Well I like to track all chord changes from the i chord – (which is C minor within the key of C minor).
Most music comes back to this chord again and again, every 3 or 4 chords…
It sounds resolved – the music could end on it – and it sounds minor.
So the music keeps coming back ‘home’ to this i chord – before venturing out again.
This is the most important chord to learn by ear – because you can transcribe almost all chord progressions just by hearing this i chord, and then tracking the bass line from there…
So say you hear C minor (the i chord). This tells you that the bass note is C.
Where does C move next?
Down a whole-step to Bb? That means Bb major is being played.
Down another whole-step to Ab? That means Ab major is being played.
And so on.
Our ears are most sensitive to the midrange – so most people focus on the upper part of the chords that are played in the midrange…
But the easier way to transcribe a chord progression (and to ‘hear the changes’) is to listen to the bass line.
Want to play songs by ear?
Watch my free 4-part video series that shows you how: