Chord Ear Training

Question: How can I readily identify any chord when played?

– Timothy (Nigeria)

Albert’s reply: The first step in chord ear training is to learn to identify the basic types of chords, starting with triads in root position. Since a triad is composed of two stacked thirds and each of those thirds can be either major (M3 = major third) or minor (m3 = minor third), there are a total of four possible permutations: M3+m3 (major triad), m3+M3 (minor triad), m3+m3 (diminished triad) and M3+M3 (augmented triad):

Major triad:

Minor triad:

Diminished triad:

Augmented triad:

Here is a simple chord ear trainer available online for free that will help you to get to know the basic chords.

From there, move on to the basic seventh chords, which consist of three stacked thirds. The most important of them are the dominant seventh and diminished seventh:

Dominant seventh:

Diminished seventh:

Once you can identify the basic triads and seventh chords, it’s time to start doing so within a harmonic context, that is, within the scale. For instance, a major triad (in root position) occurs starting on scale degrees 1, 4 and 5 of the major scale. Thus, you’ll need to learn to distinguish the major triad starting on scale degree 1 (called the tonic) from that starting on scale degree 4 (the subdominant) and from that starting on scale degree 5 (the dominant).

The best way to accomplish this is to familiarize yourself first with the scale degrees through interval ear training.

Next, learn common chord progressions and practice transposing them into all keys.

Once you’ve accomplished these chord ear training steps, you’ll find that you’ll automatically recognize the most common chords in the music you hear.

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