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Hearing Chord Progressions

ear training

Question: I play the guitar which is a string instrument just like the piano, and I play in a little church band. Before I started going to this church I just played by myself, and now I have to play with other musicians and have to play in the same key. I struggle to hear the the right key and the changes. How do I hear that?

Struggling Musician

– Norman (Gallipolis, Ohio)

Albert’s reply: Thanks for submitting such a great question. As for the key, the other musicians will have to give you the starting key, unless you happen to have perfect pitch (which is a double-edged sword).

From there, you’ll need to learn the common chord progressions on your instrument. I don’t play guitar and can’t help there, but the good news is that the chord progressions are instrument-independent. The most common chords are I (tonic), V (dominant) and IV (subdominant). You should learn the V-I progression in all keys, then IV-V-I. Then learn how to play a circle of fifths sequence… and you’ll be surprised at how much more easily you’ll be able to keep up!

Perhaps a guitar teacher could recommend a book of common chord progressions and their standard fingerings and voicings on the guitar?

Incidentally, the piano is a hybrid beast. While it’s a “stringed instrument,” it’s not officially a “string instrument” since its strings are struck by hammers. Therefore it’s considered a percussion instrument. However, out job as pianists is to make it sing like a string instrument!

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