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#1086389 - 03/13/08 01:05 PM Playing by ear: working out the chords
monstermunch Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/23/07
Posts: 63
Hi,

I've been trying to learn to play songs by ear recently. My general drill to learning to pick out melodies is:

1. pick a song from a list of the ones I know well.
2. pick a note to start on.
3. hum the rest of the song from that note.
4. work out the next note by working out if the pitch of the next note goes up/down and by how much.

It's a little confusing when you don't know which key I've started in (Is there anyway to determine this?), but I can normally work out where the sharps/flats should be. I've done this for a few weeks and, while I still make mistakes, I'm much quicker at honing in on the right notes.

I want to work out how to pick out the right chords now but I'm not really sure how to do it. For some songs, the chord always shares a note with the current note of the melody (e.g. Auld Lang Syne, House of the Rising Sun) and the chords are either major/minor so there isn't that many options to choose from so it's quite easy. Other songs I just can't work out though and I can't see the pattern in how the chords are chosen. Even when I think I'm playing in C-major, I try all the basic C-major chords and sometimes none of them seem to fit. I don't know how to train my ear to get the right chord.

When picking out the melody by humming the tune, I ask myself is the pitch going up/down, big/small jump etc. Is there any questions like this for picking out chords? e.g. major/minor. I know chords sound different, but I can't really describe them well because they're not as simple to compare as pitches.

Is there any rules for determining the next chord? What's the best way to train your ear to work out the chord?

Any links/books on this would be great.

Thanks.

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#1086390 - 03/13/08 01:23 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
Seaside_Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/19/04
Posts: 2167
Loc: Blackpool, UK
Hi monstermunch

do a search (top of the page) and key in something like "play by ear"

get yourself a coffee and sit down, relax and prepare yourself for a few hours of reading


Lee \:\)
_________________________
Twitter: @Seaside_Lee

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#1086391 - 03/13/08 02:35 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
pastafarian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 379
Loc: Canada
The last note of a song is usually the key the song is in.

If the key is a major key, play the melody with your pinky and add the notes of all the major triads that could be correct below the melody note. For example, if the note is A, your chord choices are probably D, F or A. This will work for most simple pop, folk or rock songs. If it sounds close, but not the right "flavour", try 6th, 7th, chords, etc. and augmented or diminished triads after that.

Do a search for a PW member named "Rodney". Reading and learning what is in his posts will teach you lots about chords/harmony and will save you $$$$.
_________________________
Without music life would be a mistake
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

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#1086392 - 03/13/08 03:25 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
Elssa Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1619
Loc: NY
Hi Monstermunch:

Piano Magic www.pianomagic.com is all about learning to play the chords by ear, if that's what you're interested in. \:\)

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#1086393 - 03/13/08 03:33 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
"It's a little confusing when you don't know which key I've started in (Is there anyway to determine this?)".

I must admit my ignorance here, but I simply never understand what is meant by this.

Sometimes I also have some fun in trying to "fish out" from the keyboard a melody that I know and like.

But making a couple of attempts it would seem that *only one combination of notes* is the right one.

If I repeat the same "combination" (I am awfully un-technical here for want of knowledge; I mean the same shift in the number of semitones between notes) in a different part of the keyboard, it will have the same general idea, but you will always know that it is not the "same" melody, because it does not make the "right" sound, right?

So how can one play the melody he has found "in a different key" and still have it right?
_________________________
"The man that hath no music in himself / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." (W.Shakespeare)

Kemble Conservatoire 335025 Walnut Satin

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#1086394 - 03/13/08 04:10 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
mahlzeit Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/06
Posts: 1916
Loc: Netherlands
 Quote:
Originally posted by Innominato:
So how can one play the melody he has found "in a different key" and still have it right? [/b]
By changing the chords also.
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No idea what chords you are playing? Reverse Chord Finder Pro will tell you!

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#1086395 - 03/13/08 04:36 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
pastafarian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 379
Loc: Canada
"Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)" is the name of Rodney's most excellent work.
_________________________
Without music life would be a mistake
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

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#1086396 - 03/13/08 05:45 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
Late Beginner Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/08
Posts: 588
Loc: West Australia
Hi,

If you are trying to work out most traditional or popular songs there are actually many 'right' answers. It's normal to re-arrange songs to suit things like the voice range of the singer (i.e. same song, different key) the range, number and/or characteristics of the instruments(s) that you're using on that occasion, or the style you want to play the song in.

Even the original band or songwriter is likely to play their compositions differently on any given night. For instance, I have a Dylan songbook with 2 'official' versions of one song - different keys, completely different picking style, etc. And I'm sure that he used others too.

I find that I can usually get a roughly recognisable version by figuring out the basic melody and adding a few simple chords, just to get started. After that, it's a matter of fine tuning it by trying out fancier 'recipes' until I find something a bit closer to the effect I was hoping for.

As others have mentioned, you come across the same underlying progressions many times, so you get to know what's a reasonable starting guess. In many cases if you can't quite pick the 'fancy' chord then substituting something more basic will often do the job in the meantime anyway.

I expect that others will have much more efficient and knowledgeable ways of approaching it, but that seems to be working for me. And I'm picking up a general feel for different ways that it can all work as I go along... \:\)

Cheers,

Chris
_________________________
Who needs feet of clay? I can get into enough trouble with feet made of regular foot stuff...

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#1086397 - 03/13/08 05:51 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords
Late Beginner Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/08
Posts: 588
Loc: West Australia
 Quote:
Originally posted by pastafarian:
"Chord Voicing Techniques (A Primer)" is the name of Rodney's most excellent work. [/b]
Great tip - thanks.

Here it is:

Chord Voicing Techniques

It looks like that's my forum reading for today (and a while!) taken care of. \:\)

Cheers,

Chris
_________________________
Who needs feet of clay? I can get into enough trouble with feet made of regular foot stuff...

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#1617063 - 02/10/11 04:43 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
wouter79 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3784
"So how can one play the melody he has found "in a different key" and still have it right?"

Simple. Nothing really changes smile Tonic stays tonic in the new key; Dominant dominant, subdominant subdominant etc etc.
_________________________

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#1617456 - 02/11/11 07:04 AM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
RedKat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/14/10
Posts: 175
Loc: Belgium
Hmm… I am afraid you will not like my answer and, please, do not feel offended but I believe the ability to play by ear is pretty much inborn. For me it works very simple: I come to the instrument and… play a piece by ear. I can hear the basic chords progressions tonic, subdominants, dominant etc. OK, I have to admit that some fancy augmented or diminished chords might require a bit of tinkering (if I feel like doing that) but they are built on the main harmony, anyway, and everything, in principle, can be played without the fancy ones.
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#1617473 - 02/11/11 07:28 AM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: RedKat]
Studio Joe Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/28/07
Posts: 1803
Loc: Decatur, Texas
Originally Posted By: RedKat
I believe the ability to play by ear is pretty much inborn.


I disagree. I played for many years, from sheet music only, before I learned how to play by ear.
_________________________
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#1617755 - 02/11/11 02:36 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: RedKat]
Scott Coletta Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/07/11
Posts: 514
Loc: Chicago
Originally Posted By: RedKat
Hmm… I am afraid you will not like my answer and, please, do not feel offended but I believe the ability to play by ear is pretty much inborn.


Before going to college for music and getting in to jazz I would have agreed with this. I couldn't play by ear at all except to guess. But I have since learned very reliable relative pitch. I can easily hear a tune and play a random note at the piano and from that note identify what the key is. I'm also able to identify many chord progressions by ear and this skill is continually improving. So this can definitely be learned. You of course need a solid understanding of theory to build off of. Here is the method for getting it right:

http://www.amazon.com/Ear-Training-Note-Complete-Method/dp/1890944475

Don't even waste your time with trying to learn intervals. I started off this way and alot of colleges teach this way, but it definitely doesn't work in practical applications.

Also, singing is a must. You don't have to be good... just be in tune. smile


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#1617757 - 02/11/11 02:39 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
Want to play by ear? Learn the l - 1V - V7 chords. First in the Key of C Major then around the circle of fifths. Do this and you'll be playing by ear in no time. smile
_________________________
Play New Age Piano
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#1617890 - 02/11/11 06:56 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
jotur Online   blank
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5748
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
(The last post in this thread before it was revived was in March 2008. No big deal, really, because playing by ear is always an interesting discussion. But addressing the OP is probably useless.

Carry on smile )

Cathy
_________________________

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#1647049 - 03/24/11 08:27 AM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
ROMagister Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/26/08
Posts: 518
Loc: Bucuresti, Romania
In the classic 6-2-5-1 progression, are the 6 and 2 major ?
because I've vaguely heard a piece and now trying to improvise/recreate it, got the progression:

Am-Dm-G-C-F-Dm-E (last one is major ! even may be M7) or
vi-ii-V-I-IV-ii-III(7)

Usual enough or weird ?
or, because it starts on minor key, it should be numbered

i-iv-VII-III-iv-V7 ?

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#1647054 - 03/24/11 08:35 AM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: ROMagister]
kevinb Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/09
Posts: 1565
Originally Posted By: ROMagister
In the classic 6-2-5-1 progression, are the 6 and 2 major ?
because I've vaguely heard a piece and now trying to improvise/recreate it, got the progression:

Am-Dm-G-C-F-Dm-E (last one is major ! even may be M7) or
vi-ii-V-I-IV-ii-III(7)

Usual enough or weird ?
or, because it starts on minor key, it should be numbered

i-iv-VII-III-iv-V7 ?


Written out the second way it does't look odd, does it? If you think of it as a section in Am, it all kind-of makes sense. If you think of Am as vi of C major then it looks a bit odd. Of course, it sounds the same however you analyse it.

Anyhow, vi-ii-V(7)-I and vi-II(7)-V(7)-I are both pretty common, from the Baroque era onwards.

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#1647194 - 03/24/11 12:24 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
jotur Online   blank
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5748
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
I've found that the major/minorness of 6-2-5-1 is not set in stone. So I like to think of them as "flavors" of the root note in each chord. Sometimes it's G7-C7-F7-Bb, and sometimes it's G7-Cm-Fm-Bb. Sometimes it's E7-A, and sometimes it's Em7-A. But the root of the progression is the same.

At least that's the way I look at it and see it.

Cathy
_________________________

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#1647201 - 03/24/11 12:44 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: monstermunch]
Rickster Offline


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8587
Loc: Georgia, USA
Interesting thread, although it was resurrected from a few years ago. laugh

I admire someone who can read music and play by ear… that individual is certainly well rounded and highly skilled and gifted. With that said, I must say that I play primarily by ear (what little I can play). I did learn “Somewhere over the rainbow” by the sheet music (for the most part) and I remember the notes well.

Fact is, I’m having a lot of fun simply playing by ear as much as I can. I do think learning various cords and cord progressions is really important. Also, when it comes to blues and jazz (or boogie-woogie) learning certain “licks” or style’s is important. It is all fun, no matter how simple or elementary.

Lately, I’ve been interested in arpeggios… anything arpeggio…

Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to actually play a piano! laugh

Take care,

Rick
_________________________
Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel

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#1647204 - 03/24/11 01:03 PM Re: Playing by ear: working out the chords [Re: Rickster]
Elssa Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1619
Loc: NY
As mentioned, learning the Circle is a great help in playing by ear: http://www.angelfire.com/fl4/moneychords/circle.html

If you're interested in an on-line course for learning to play by ear, this one is great: www.LearnPianoWithRosa.com

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