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Old 04-21-2018, 07:47 AM
hakkolu hakkolu is offline
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Default Chord tone identification thru ear

How important is it to be able to hear and pick out individual notes of chords and harmonies through ear? When I hear a busy chord, maybe a piano chord, I can typically pick out 2 of the notes (usually the lowest and highest), and sometimes a 3rd one. It takes a while though, I usually loop that part of the recording over and over again or slow it down like mad before it happens.

Should I be worried about this? Is this a skill serious musicians have? If so, how can I improve it?
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Old 04-21-2018, 08:44 AM
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Depends on how clear the chord is (audio quality, chord duration, chord complexity, other left over ringing notes (typical for many guitarists)).

In what context do you need to know the individual notes of each chord played? FWIW on fingerstyle tunes I often try to figure out individual
notes but usually only when the recording is clear enough to not make the task totally aggravating.
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Old 04-21-2018, 09:08 AM
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This is called "ear training," and most music programs include it. Composition and theory student consider it vital. While I was in school in the '70s and in a band I worked with a guy named Tim who had the most acutely-trained ear I've ever encountered. Tim would listen to a new piece and go, "Oh, did you hear that? He used a C# passing tone to modulate to Dm7sus. He could analyze complex chords within an orchestra as they went by without pausing.

I'd suggest finding a good ear training course to study. I did when I was studying music in college. Now, I'm NOTHING like my friend. There's a companion skill that is useful: recognizing not only pitch, but timbre, so that you can recognize which strings and fret position a chord is made up from. Few people have an absolute ability but it is possible to develop a reasonable ability that is really useful.

At the same time a friend of the band had absolute pitch. The school choir use him instead of a pitch pipe to start acapella pieces. You could strum a chord and he'd say, "Your A string is flat," and he'd be right. He considered it both a blessing and a cursing.

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Old 04-21-2018, 09:24 AM
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Originally Posted by hakkolu View Post
How important is it to be able to hear and pick out individual notes of chords and harmonies through ear? When I hear a busy chord, maybe a piano chord, I can typically pick out 2 of the notes (usually the lowest and highest), and sometimes a 3rd one. It takes a while though, I usually loop that part of the recording over and over again or slow it down like mad before it happens.

Should I be worried about this? Is this a skill serious musicians have? If so, how can I improve it?
Just keep doing it. You will get better at focusing your ear on those kinds of details.
I don't know how good "serious" musicians are at it - some are no doubt better than others - but I'm in much the same boat as you, maybe a little better. I always need to use a slowdowner to be sure of chords (to help isolate and listen more closely), even if I think I can identify them without. That is, I can usually guess the main identity of the chord, it's other details (added notes or extensions) I like to confirm.

One thing you should try to listen for is chord quality, in particular the difference between major and minor. That's usually fairly easy if the chord is in root position, but inversions (non-root note in the bass) can muddy the picture. But then inversions themselves are good to listen out for - a particular kind of instability which is not to do with dissonance or complexity of the chord, but still a very strong sense that another chord has to follow.
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Old 04-21-2018, 10:38 AM
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…Should I be worried about this? Is this a skill serious musicians have? If so, how can I improve it?
Hi hakkolu

I began transcribing songs when I was 8 years old, sitting on the edge of my bed while wearing my accordion, with hand-drawn staff paper (I used a ruler and pencil) and listening to the radio for my favorite tunes to 'write' them down.

When one of the songs came on I wanted to learn, I'd hunt-n-pick-out notes on the accordion and write them down on the staff paper (melodies & sometimes harmony). The next time it came on, I'd figure out what notes were right (or wrong) and start assigning chords they were using to the melody, and write the chord names above the melodies.

By the time I was through with a song (which could take a week or two), I had melody line, harmonies, and chord progressions with lyrics. When I was 10, I bought a small battery powered reel-to-reel and refined the process. It got easier and transcription became much faster.

And my ear got better. Instead of generic chords, the place they were being played became more important (especially with guitar voicing).

I was a music major in college. Theory was my passion, so ear training was a course I took…which improved my listen-remember-organize-transcribe skills a ton more.

I still transcribe…sometimes on the back of a chord chart, or on my iPad using a drawing program and free handing measures for other musicians on our worship team who are trying to figure out progressions, chord inversions, passing tones, or lead lines (or singers needing a harmony note).

And I can hear the inversions of chords (which notes are on the treble strings, and which on the bass). In fact if you know the top and bottom notes of an inversion, and can identify the chord, the inside notes are pretty simple to fill in.

I use a form of solfeggi to associate pitch with key (I use alpha-numeric assignment of notes in the root-key of the piece instead of Do, Re, Mi etc). And I use a sliding Root (the Root note of the scale of the key the song is in is always '1' to my ear). I think of chord progressions in Roman Numerals, capital Numerals for major chords, and lower-case for minor chords.

As with any musical skill, the more you use it, the easier identifying, dissecting, and applying the info gets, and the more auto-pilot certain aspects of it become.

It may sound complex, but I arrived at the point I'm at now after 62 years of practice…not in a week or a month.

Hope this adds to the discussion…


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Old 04-21-2018, 11:04 AM
hakkolu hakkolu is offline
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Thanks for the comments. I am told that I have a really good ear, I can pretty easily figure out a melody on my guitar, or sing a song in tune without accompaniment. I can harmonize a melody with thirds or fifths as well pretty much on the spot.

But chords get me. People say minor chords are dark or sad and major is happy, bright... I never understood why. Certainly there is a certain characteristic for them but a major chord is not always happy, and a minor chord can be happy to my ears, all dependent on the context.
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Old 04-21-2018, 01:57 PM
1neeto 1neeto is offline
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This guy has cool ear training videos. His kids have amazing pitch perfect ears and are fun videos to watch.

https://youtu.be/rPSRH3tf5B8
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Old 04-21-2018, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by hakkolu View Post
But chords get me. People say minor chords are dark or sad and major is happy, bright... I never understood why. Certainly there is a certain characteristic for them but a major chord is not always happy, and a minor chord can be happy to my ears, all dependent on the context.
It does depend on context, or i.e. usually the key (major or minor) the piece is in. For example the sound of a C chord often sounds more
"happy" in the key of G (try cycling G-C-G) than in the key of Am (cycling Am-C-Am). While listening to a tune pulling a chord out of its
context within the music can help in certain cases to identify the chord's notes and intervals.
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Old 04-21-2018, 02:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hakkolu View Post
How important is it to be able to hear and pick out individual notes of chords and harmonies through ear? When I hear a busy chord, maybe a piano chord, I can typically pick out 2 of the notes (usually the lowest and highest), and sometimes a 3rd one. It takes a while though, I usually loop that part of the recording over and over again or slow it down like mad before it happens.

Should I be worried about this? Is this a skill serious musicians have? If so, how can I improve it?
The most important aspect of learning to play music is by training the ear. Everything about playing follows the ear's guidance. Even a score can be incorrectly written and people who do not have developed ears can and do incorrectly play songs and melodies because of it.

I can listen to a score and know the key and progression well before I touch a guitar to prove myself correct. This comes from years of listening to every note on the guitar's neck, which is natural for people who only finger pick and endeavor to carefully sound every note. This develops into a knack for knowing which key the score is in, each chord being played and the progression of chords as I stated above. It wasn't a conscious endeavor but rather a by-product of fingerpicking as a natural augmentation of ear training.

Worried? I would not use that word. I'd use essential instead.
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Old 04-21-2018, 07:31 PM
hakkolu hakkolu is offline
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The most important aspect of learning to play music is by training the ear. Everything about playing follows the ear's guidance. Even a score can be incorrectly written and people who do not have developed ears can and do incorrectly play songs and melodies because of it.

I can listen to a score and know the key and progression well before I touch a guitar to prove myself correct. This comes from years of listening to every note on the guitar's neck, which is natural for people who only finger pick and endeavor to carefully sound every note. This develops into a knack for knowing which key the score is in, each chord being played and the progression of chords as I stated above. It wasn't a conscious endeavor but rather a by-product of fingerpicking as a natural augmentation of ear training.

Worried? I would not use that word. I'd use essential instead.
Great that you can do all these... I sometimes can remember a C note if I can remember the opening note of Charlie Parker's Embraceable You solo. Otherwise I do not have perfect pitch.

When you hear a chord, say that has 4-5 notes in it, maybe a piano chord, do you individually identify all 4 -5 notes by ear? Or do you use another method to figure out what the chord is?
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Old 04-22-2018, 06:46 AM
hakkolu hakkolu is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Depends on how clear the chord is (audio quality, chord duration, chord complexity, other left over ringing notes (typical for many guitarists)).

In what context do you need to know the individual notes of each chord played? FWIW on fingerstyle tunes I often try to figure out individual
notes but usually only when the recording is clear enough to not make the task totally aggravating.
This is what I do to figure out chords to tunes and also to try and understand what people do when they play chord-melody. Is there another way?
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Old 04-22-2018, 07:32 AM
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This is what I do to figure out chords to tunes and also to try and understand what people do when they play chord-melody. Is there another way?
Hi hakkolu

Noodling and figuring things out on your own is a great way to discover new ways to play the same thing.

Sometimes I'll try moving a chord-melody part elsewhere on the neck, or in a different key or another tuning.

And when I watch videos (on YouTube) I'm watching the hands.

When I taught one of the skills I taught students was to read hands of other players. Lots of 'free-info' to had in that.



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Old 04-22-2018, 09:21 AM
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This is what I do to figure out chords to tunes and also to try and understand what people do when they play chord-melody. Is there another way?
The key the tune is in and what chords belong to that key for starters when noodling up a chord-melody tune. Of course you will
soon run into various chord substitutions (especially if you consider the melody line part of the chord rather than a separate thing).

See if you can practice hearing individual four and five note in chords you make up. Say less typical chords such as 3-x-2-2-3-x
or 3-x-3-4-4-3 or x-3-x-4-5-5.

Practice recognizing a bit better the sound of chord categories (e.g. dominant and major seventh chords).

Personally when making up my own music I am listening to voices rather than thinking about notes.
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Old 04-24-2018, 09:27 AM
hakkolu hakkolu is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
The key the tune is in and what chords belong to that key for starters when noodling up a chord-melody tune. Of course you will
soon run into various chord substitutions (especially if you consider the melody line part of the chord rather than a separate thing).

See if you can practice hearing individual four and five note in chords you make up. Say less typical chords such as 3-x-2-2-3-x
or 3-x-3-4-4-3 or x-3-x-4-5-5.

Practice recognizing a bit better the sound of chord categories (e.g. dominant and major seventh chords).

Personally when making up my own music I am listening to voices rather than thinking about notes.
Thanks. I do this sometimes. I am usually good at hearing the highest note, the lowest note, and one more note close to the lowest note. If it is a 4 note chord, typically the second highest notes gets lost in the mix. If I play that note and then the chord, I can definitely hear it, and cannot believe I was unable to hear it in the first place. Is this common among musicians or most musicians can separately hear the notes easily?
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Old 04-24-2018, 09:59 AM
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…If I play that note and then the chord, I can definitely hear it, and cannot believe I was unable to hear it in the first place. Is this common among musicians or most musicians can separately hear the notes easily?
Hi h

In my experience, yes. Chords add texture, and guitar harmonics mask notes (or sometimes create illusionary notes). But with time and experience (and discussion and experimentation) things become clearer.

It's probably why transcribers make so many 'guitar-centric' mistakes. I frequently see charts where the chords are misidentified, or chord insets are flat-wrong. It is my belief that most of the transcribers out-there are keyboard players, and unfamiliar with the guitar, the fretboard, and our unique constraints and chord options.

So they just don't hear guitar inversions, or they get the 'flavor' of a chord on the keyboard, and then just select a button which posts a fingering chart for the chord they thought it was at the top of the score.

Hearing is an art which gets better with use. I've spent hundreds of hours watching interviews with jazz guitarists talking about progressions, runs, chord options etc. It's fascinating how detailed the great jazz players are (and refined in many cases).

I have a degree in music, and had enough hours to minor in it as well (they just would not allow me to major and minor in the same subject). And i have extensive keyboard, and solo instrument experience as well as classical training, and 55+ years of guitar.

But the theory was all just the beginning.

I found myself in an argument as to what to 'name' a chord someone was playing in a recording with two other people. The 'notes' were not in dispute (we had guitars in our hands and could play the chord), but it was how we were going to interpret it in context to the song.

And we were never going to actually even play the song. We just started discussing it and fell into disagreements about it. My gigging partner learned Pentatonic from the minor Pentatonic scale and I learned it from the major Pentatonic, so we hear chord progressions and pentatonic runs differently.

There's a lot of flexibility and inherent disagreement in music…despite theory.

Hope this adds the discussion…


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