Hearing the Changes

Knowing what the chords of a song or chord progressions are and when the when the change.

Published: 02 Jan 2005 Updated: 21 May 2024Visits: 595Code: UL127

INSTRUMENTS: Ear Main: Music Others: Ukulele
Subjects: Chords • Intermediate • Advanced • Repertoire • Progressions • Harmony

Hearing the Changes


Hearing The Changes is knowing what the chords of a song or chord progression are and when they change. This lesson gets you on the road to developing this ability.

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This involves know the Chords of the Keys and the Scales that are used for common progressions and songs. And the ability to recognize the sound of intervals – the distance between intervals.

Learning a bit or a lot of the Principles of Music can go a long way in understanding how chords and chord progressions move and interact together. There is actually a lot in common between songs than one might guess.

Some Tips for Learning to Hear the Changes

Hearing and figuring out the chords to a song takes the same skills as transcribing a song and is limited to the chords of the song. You might be doing it in real-time as you are playing the song or listening to the song.

Without some skills mentioned above, it's often a hit or miss, hunt and peck method of figuring out what the chord changes are for a song.

Here are some tips for figuring out the chords:

  • Find where the chord changes are. Locate the bass or root of the first chord.
  • Is the chord major or minor?
    • Major chords are passive and sound resolved and sound peaceful, happy, relaxed. The majority of songs are in Major Keys and the I chord of the key/scale, the Tonic is typically the home chord.
    • Minor chords are sad and mysterious.
    • Diminished and Augmented chords are a bit of an unnerving quality. Very suspenseful. I (Curt) the diminished and augmented on of the movie chords. The augmented chord is great in horror movies when someone is not making it out of that scene.

Root Voicings

If the song is simple, then start checking to see if the chord is a major, minor, 7th or power 5 chords. Maybe a sus4, sus2 or add 2, add 9 chords. At the heart of the overwhelming majority of chords are the basic traditional triads, the major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads that form the foundation of ALL chords built in thirds.

If it is a more sophisticated rich harmony, a.k.a. chords. Then try 4-part chords maj7, m7, 7, dim7, aug7, etc…

With each success, on to the next chord.

NOTE: Sometimes it is easier to figure this out on piano than the ukulele or guitar. You don't need piano technique, simply how to make Simple Chords on the Piano and knowing the names of the piano keys — pretty easy on piano.

Bass Voicings

If not quite right, but seems like the right chord but not the right root. It might be a chord inversion or Slash Chord . If C. If it sounds like a C major chord but now exactly the C you are playing, the lowest note might not be C. Try C/D, C/E, Cm/F, C/G, Cm/G, C/Bb, C/B, with the notes after the slash the lowest not in the chord. If this fails, and it could be any bass note with C as the name of the chord.

Cliché, Common Progressions with Distinct Bass Lines

Here are some examples of this type of progressions.

  • Cm Cm/maj7 Cm7 Cm6 ( Cm Cm/B Cm/Bb Cm/A) — This progression is typically notated wrong. You'll hear it after you become more familiar with the correct notation.
  • C Cm7+5 Cm6 Cm7+5 — I call this the Secret Agent sound and it is typically supporting the melody. Witchcraft is a jazz standard that has the movement.
  • C Cmaj7 C6 Cmaj7 — A common substitution for two measures or 8 beats of C
  • Cmaj7 Caug C6 Cmaj7 or C Caug C6 Caug C

Repeat the proccess until you have determined each chord.

Check out Jim D'Ville's Play Ukulele by EarThree Chord Club for many examples of simple songs we already know that you can learn by ear.

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End of Lesson - Thanks, Hope You Enjoyed It!

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