Make Your Ears Awesome: Chord Progressions
Learn how to figure out chord progressions by ear with real music.
To find the ‘secret’ to ear training, we need to travel back in time.
We’re talking way back, before the era of guitar tab sites, YouTube and Angry Birds. (So, basically the dark ages of humanity.)
As our time machine whizzes and rattles, we slowly descend into the past and see:
John Mayer, Jack White and John Frusciante …
… Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan …
… Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong …
… all doing the same thing.
They’re learning hundreds and hundreds of songs by ear.
All the greats did.
Today, we can just yell something at a smartphone and the tab or chords to a song will magically appear. You could spend a lifetime playing guitar, without figuring out a single song by ear. But that would be a shame, for two reasons:
- It’s a really fun and useful skill to be able to figure out any song you like. Whether it’s an obscure b-side only you realise is pure genius, a TV theme song or even a video game soundtrack. (For me: the intro to Better Call Saul.)
- As any pro musician will tell you, learning songs by ear is an amazing way to train your ears and become a better musician. By practicing with real music instead of just exercises, your ears get trained for real-life musical situations (more about that in a second).
Chances are though, you’ve heard much of this before. You know you it’d be a good idea to learn songs by ear and that everybody and their uncle recommends it.
But let’s be real:
figuring out a song by ear can be hard. If you’ve tried a couple of times and got stuck, you know how easy it is to give up and finally just google the song. This is how many guitar players never progress beyond the tab and YouTube stage.
In short, you get all the feedback you need and never get stuck.
This allows you to put in super-focused practice.
That’s what this course aims to do. To be your virtual private teacher, guiding you through 57 songs to learn the chord progressions by ear. To help you learn songs without ever getting stuck. And in the process, train your ears to become awesome.
Training your ears with real music is essential.
Instead, you want to venture out into the jungle of real music. When you work with real songs, your ears get used to dissecting the sounds of real songs.
And so, I spent dozens of hours listening to hundreds of songs to find the perfect songs to learn by ear. I looked for tracks in different styles and genres. Some half a century old, others that were written just a few years ago.
Finally, I selected 57 songs by 37 different artists for this course. These songs:
- Can be played using only open guitar chords. So, if you have your open guitar chords down, you’re good to go.
- Have clear, unambigious bass lines (which prevents a lot of confusion and frustration).
- Are ordered by difficulty level, so you’re always practicing in the Goldilocks zone: not too hard, not too easy, but just right.
Next, I built this interactive chord tool.
I designed this tool to make sure you never get stuck. Here’s how:
Sound interesting? Simply try out the free sample course, which includes the first four lessons.
You can also get the All Access Pass. This gives you access to the Make Your Ears Awesome: Chord Progressions, the Essential Sevenths course (which is the sequel to this one) and every other course on StringKick. Check it out!
– Anne, from Germany
Section 1: Tune into the Bass
The lowest note in music determines how all the other notes above it will sound. Harmony always starts with the bass note. In technical terms: bass notes are like really, really important. The first section you’ll start with songs to pick out bass notes and see how they tell us what the chords in a song are.
Section 2: Major vs. Minor
In the first section, we’ve seen both major and minor chords. But you haven’t had to figure out which one you were dealing with. That’s what we’ll focus on in this section. You’ll first check out a couple of songs that are either all major or all minor chords, and then you’ll figure out some tunes that use both. We’ll also look at slightly trickier bass lines and check out two ways to write down chord progressions by using repeat signs and symbols.
Section 3: Melodic Bass
In the songs up until now, the bass has been relatively simple. It moves from one chord to another and always plays the ‘root note’: the note the chord is named after. In this section, you’ll explore songs where the bass plays more melodically and how you can figure out which notes tell us the chords of a song and which ones you can ignore.
Section 4: No Bass
What if there’s no bass guitar in a song? In this section you’ll figure out songs where the lowest notes are played by other instruments, such as guitar or piano. Sometimes this is easier, sometimes it’s trickier.
Section 5: Push The Tempo
You’ve come a long way! You’ve figured out songs with major chords and minor chords, melodic bass lines or even no bass at all. Now it’s time to push the tempo and check out some songs where the chords move a bit faster.
Section 6: Mixing it up
In this final section, we’ll mix up everything we’ve seen so far! I’ll also keep hints and tips to a minimum so you can practice figure out songs without a lot of guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some questions you might have! Any other questions? Feel free to email me at any time at just(at)stringkick.com
What artists are the songs by?
I made a mix of a bunch of different artists, here’s the full list:
Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys, REM. Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Otis Redding, Starsailor, Damian Marley, Vermillion Lies, Santigold, Fever Ray, Death Cab for Cutie, PJ Harvey, Moby, Chairlift, Cat Power, The Black Keys, Aloe Blacc, Bob Marley, AnnenMayKantereit, Lee Hazlewood, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bryan Ferry, Au Revoir Simone, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, St. Vincent, Jimi Hendrix, Agnes Obel, Morcheeba, Feist, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Audioslave, Belle and Sebastian, Cage the Elephant, Cake, The Four Tops, Ben Harper
Hopefully you’ll discover some new favourites!
What format is the course in?
The course consists of 57 song lessons. On each lesson, you can listen to the song and I provide some hints, instructions or advice. Next, you fill out what you think are the correct chords and check your answer. The course automatically keeps track of where you are, so just jump in wherever you left off, whenever you have the time.
What chords do I need to know for this course?
Your basic open chords. So to be precise that’s: E, Em, F, G, A, Am, C, D and Dm.
What if I don’t like the course?
Simple: if you decide the course is not for you, you’ll get a full refund within 30 days. No matter the reason.
How do I figure out a song by ear?
I’ve written an in-depth, step-by-step guide on how to learn songs by ear. Check it out here! If you have any specific questions, leave a comment on that page or email me: just(at)stringkick.com.
I have another question.
Feel free to email me at just(at)stringkick.com if you have any questions!