What Chord is This? A Guide to Identifying Chords by Ear

Published: May 2, 2023
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Why Learn to Identify Chords by Ear?

Identifying chords by ear is a skill that can take your playing to the next level. Rather than relying on sheet music or tablature, you can play along with other musicians or create your own music more organically. This skill can also help you pick up songs quickly and easily, as you'll be able to recognize common chord progressions.

Understanding Chord Structure

Before you can identify chords by ear, you need to understand their structure. A chord is made up of three or more notes played simultaneously. These notes are typically played in thirds, meaning that the distance between each note is a third of the total distance between the root note and the highest note.

Understanding Chord Structure

Using Your Ear to Identify Chords

Once you understand the structure of chords, it's time to start identifying them by ear. The best way to do this is by listening to the individual notes and their relationships to one another. Start by listening to the bass note or root note of the chord. This will give you a clue as to what type of chord you're dealing with. Major chords typically have a bright, happy sound, while minor chords sound more sad or melancholic.

Next, listen to the other notes in the chord and try to identify their relationship to the root note. Are they played in thirds, fifths, or sevenths? This will give you more information about the chord and its structure.

Finally, try to identify any additional notes or embellishments that may be present in the chord. These can include suspended notes, added tones, or altered notes, and they can all change the sound and character of the chord.

Using Your Ear to Identify Chords

Tips for Improving Your Chord Identification Skills

Identifying chords by ear is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. Here are a few tips to help you improve your chord identification skills:

🎹 Practice regularly by playing along with songs and trying to identify the chords.

🎹 Use ear training exercises to improve your ability to recognize intervals and chord structures.

🎹 Listen to a wide variety of music to expose yourself to different chord progressions and styles.

🎹 Play with other musicians to develop your ability to hear and identify chords in a group setting


Identifying chords by ear is a valuable skill for any musician. By understanding chord structure and listening for the individual notes and their relationships to one another, you can quickly and easily identify chords and play more intuitively.