Chords ear training

Chords are everywhere in music. From the rich harmonies of classical orchestral music to the complex chord varieties used by jazz musicians and the young guitar player strumming away in his bedroom.

Any time you hear more than two notes at once - that's a chord. But what kind? Major? Dominant seventh? Which inversion? What voicing?

Chord ear training can help make sure you always know.

With so many different types and uses of chords, the possibilities for training are naturally just as endless and wide-ranging. However, music in the Western tradition (including most modern rock and pop music) is based around some core principles that go back centuries.

Which area of chord ear training you should focus on will depend a bit on your background and what skills you want to improve. For a lot of students, starting with the four types of triad, and then building up to more complex 3- and 4-note chords, and studying chord inversions is a good progression - no pun intended!

Chords Ear Training

Introduction to Chord Ear Training

If you haven't done chords ear training before, start by reading about the different areas and what each can do for you as a musician in "Chord Ear Training: What is it and What can it do for you?". You'll find out how chord types ear training relates to chord progression ear training, and the musical benefits of each.

Triad Chord Ear Training

Triad chord ear training is a good place to start

The four types of triad chord (major, minor, augmented and diminished) are the basis for all commonly-used chords in music. Start ear training chords by learning to recognise these triads. You can connect it with your other relative pitch practice, such as interval ear training, using interval recognition to pick apart the triad notes by ear.

When you have developed your ear for triad chords, the harmony of music starts to make a lot more sense. You can hear the triads underlying the harmonies in songs you listen to. This makes it much easier to play music by ear, or write songs yourself.

→ Learn more about triad ear training in the Pitch & Harmony Series

Advanced Chord Ear Training

There are two directions to take your chord ear training once you've mastered triads:

Chord Voicings and Inversions

A chord is fundamentally defined by its notes, but those notes can each be in various octaves without changing the nature of the chord, or altering its characteristic sound much. You can also repeat notes. This means that you can "voice" a chord in a variety of ways, depending on which exact set of notes you use to play the chord. You can do specific ear training for these variants of the basic triad chords.

For example, a C Major triad has the notes C, E and G. But you could choose to make E the lowest note, playing the G and C above that E to form an inversion of the triad chord. You could also add extra C, E or G notes to give the chord a fuller sound. Chord ear training can allow you to tell which of these options has been used in the music you hear.

This topic of voicing chords is particularly relevant for piano players and composers, but all musicians can benefit from doing ear training to recognise chord inversions and identify the exact voicings of chords in music.

Four-note Chords (and jazz chords)

Jazz Chords Ear Training

Apart from repeating notes as mentioned above, you can also add extra, different notes to a triad chord to form more complex chord types.

The most common option is to add the seventh note of the scale, forming a four-note "seventh chord", popular in jazz and blues music. Ear training for four-note chords can help you to recognise seventh chords by ear (there are several kinds!) and other more advanced types of chord too.

This form of ear training is essential for jazz musicians, but four-note chords crop up everywhere, so it's worthwhile continuing chord ear training to these more advanced chords, even if you're not a jazz fan.

→ Learn more about Jazz Ear Training
Chords Ear Training

How to do Chord Ear Training

For more details on how to plan your ear training for chord recognition, read the full article "Chord Ear Training How-To: Chord Types" which explains the step-by-step process to develop your ear for chords, including triads, inversions, and advanced chord types.

Chord Ear Training for Guitar

Guitar players benefit from Chords Ear Training

Guitar players spend a lot of time playing chords and thinking about songs in terms of their chords, so chord ear training is a natural fit for them.

There are particular ways to train your ears for chords on the guitar, such as learning to recognise the sounds of triads and chord inversions on guitar or learning to recognise jazz guitar chords by ear. Broken chords are also an important topic for guitarists since that's so often how chords are played.

The natural next stage for guitar ear training is to work on chord progressions and learning to recognise popular progressions (like three chord songs and four chord songs) by ear. Once you have trained your ear like this it's a small step to instinctively play songs by ear on your guitar.


Pitch and Harmony

The Pitch & Harmony series teaches a variety of chord types, starting with the basic triads and then working towards the commonly-used seventh chords and how to hear chord inversions.

Chord Ear Training Resources

Chordelia chord ear training app

The fundamental type of chord is the triad: a three-note chord which can be major, minor, diminished or augmented.

Learning to recognise the different kinds of triad is an excellent first step in becoming proficient with chords, and our Chordelia: Triad Tutor app makes it easy, fun and effective!

RelativePitch interval ear training app

Learning intervals is another good way to start opening up your ear to the harmonies of chords. The RelativePitch app for iPhone and iPod Touch helps you get your ear around all the intervals of the octave.

Chord Music Theory

Watch a short video introducing the music theory behind chords:

Topics Related to Chords Ear Training

chord progressions

Chords are almost always used as part of a harmonic sequence, with one chord following another. Once you've started to appreciate different types of chord, the topic of chord progressions is a great next step.

The topic of relative pitch covers a variety of pitch-based aural skills, including scales, intervals, chords and chord progressions.

Interactive chord ear training

One important chord skill is recognising which degree of the key a chord is. To start learning to recognise these chord 'roles', try the Flash Chords game from Theta Music Trainer:

Sorry, this game requires the Adobe Flash Player and a browser with JavaScript enabled. Get Flash

If you've enjoyed this game, we recommend the full Theta Music Trainer which has several other chord games and more advanced challenges.

Theta Music Trainer

Questions about Chords Ear Training

Articles about Chords Ear Training:

And Three Makes Triad: Hearing Chords With Solfege

And Three Makes Triad: Hearing Chords With Solfege

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Ear Training Q&A: Your Questions Answered

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Alternate Guitar Tunings: A Fresh New Sound

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Chord Ear Training How-To: Chord Types

Chord Ear Training How-To: Chord Types

In “Chord Ear Training: What is it and What can it do for you?” we discussed the reasons musicians train their ears for chords, looked at the benefits of chord ear training, and gave an overview of the two main areas you can focus on.Now let’s look...
Trick or treat!

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Halloween is coming soon… Better get your ears ready! Listen to this sound and answer our fiendish question. Is it a satisfying treat… or a little bit tricky? What kind of triad is this? (If your triad know-how is all out of whack, try this article and...
Ear Training Site Profile:

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Learn to recognise chords: FREE MP3 pack!

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Most musicians can tell you the difference between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ chords. But ‘augmented’? ‘Diminished’? Different inversions, and chord progressions…? Then it gets trickier! This new downloadable training pack will introduce you to recognising chords by...

Contest Winners Announced!

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Ear Training News Vol. 6

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If you have a lot of experience with theory classes or with playing in an organized ensemble, you’re probably familiar with two different but equally important types of ear training method. When we sit down to practice though, we tend to focus only on one of them: the...
Triads and Chord Inversions On The Guitar

Triads and Chord Inversions On The Guitar

As players, guitarists are expected to have a wide range of skills including incredible ears. We are asked to play by ear, accompany singers in any key, and improvise. In developing these skills we need to be able to recognize different chord types and their...

How to Hear Chord Inversions

Learning to hear different triad types and their inversions is not really that difficult, it just takes a little time and understanding. There are no shortage of different approaches to developing this important skill, including various solfege systems and other...

New app release! Chordelia: Seventh Heaven

A short while ago, we asked users of our Chordelia: Triad Tutor app what they wanted to learn next. And the answer came back resoundingly:Seventh chords! It’s easy to see why. Seventh chords are versatile and can provide a wide variety of interesting sounds....
Four Chords and the Truth

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There’s an old joke that asks: “What’s the difference between a rock guitarist and a jazz guitarist?” Answer: “A rock guitarist plays three chords to a million peopleand a jazz guitarist plays a million chords to three people!” That may be true, but if you...
Broken Chords and Arpeggios

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There are a number of ways for a guitarist to play a chord that can have a significant impact on how the listener is affected by the song. All of the notes in the chord do not have to be played simultaneously, which is the typical method of playing chords. The term...
Inversions of Major and Minor Triads

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Missed the start of the series? Click here to start at the beginning. The previous articles in the series have covered how to recognize the different qualities of triad – major, minor, augmented and diminished. Not only can we learn to hear the quality of...
Working With Seventh Chords

Working With Seventh Chords

Missed the start of the series? Click here to start at the beginning. Once we are reasonably comfortable with intervals and triads, we can start to work on seventh chords. You may recall that a seventh chord is a triad with an added seventh above the root. The most...
Learning to Recognize Triads – Part 2

Learning to Recognize Triads – Part 2

Missed the start of the series? Click here to start at the beginning. This article is part 2 of ‘Learning To Recognize Triads’ – make sure you’ve read Part 1 first! You should make sure you are quite comfortable with major and minor triads...
Learning to Recognize Triads – Part 1

Learning to Recognize Triads – Part 1

Missed the rest of the series? Click here to start at the beginning. We will learn how to identify triads in the same manner as scales and intervals. We will begin with major triads. Major Triads You will recall that triads are made by stacking thirds. Its members are...

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