View Full Version : Changing Chords

Down Up Dick
05-09-2014, 01:55 PM
If and when playing tunes by ear, is there some special way to tell when to change chords? In a three chord folk piece, for instance, I notice that many times the chord changes are at the end of a sentence or phrase. Is there a rule or tradition or something that tells one when? I like to play my instruments more and more by ear, and sometimes I can tell when to change but not always.

05-09-2014, 04:08 PM
Often yes, chord changes do happen at the end of a lyrical and/or melodic phrase. But the key is not to take that for granted. It's important to really listen, not getting all tense or anything, but lightly concentrating if you will. That's how to play by ear, and it helps build confidence and see progress if you start with 2-chord songs. Even 1 chord, if you can find some. Check out Jim D'ville if you haven't already, in particular his 3-chord club. He offers, I think weekly, 3-chord songs in various keys. I play exclusively by ear and still go back to his offerings and also the intervals, etc. Jim has many free resources and some really awesome DVD/downloads, totally worth it. I'm not an affiliate, I've just always found them helpful because that's all you do, is listen, hear/hum whatever it is, and play. TO me, that's how music should be learned, taught and remembered.

Down Up Dick
05-09-2014, 05:06 PM
Yes, I watch some of Jim's stuff. Thanks for the help, and I agree with your views on playing by ear. I really enjoy playing my flutes by ear. It's really nice to sit and play whatever pops into your head; I'd like to do that with my Ukes.

05-10-2014, 11:07 AM
I just found this two chord song that's really fun to play and sing. The chords are C and G7

If you listen you'll know where they go. Maybe too beginner for you but some others might like it. Plus it's just a blast to do.


Down Up Dick
05-11-2014, 04:25 AM
Thanks for the help, Icelander53, but it's not HOW to change chords that I want--it's WHEN. I wanted to know if there was a rule or something that tells one to change chords. Sometimes one, when playing by ear, can feel that it's time for a change but not always. But I guess there isn't. Maybe lots of noodling will, in time, teach me what I want to know. I whistle all the time, and that's how I'd like to play all my instruments--free from written music. I've pretty much done it with my flutes, but they don't play chords. Lots of old-timey musicians learned without ever reading music or having a lesson.

Down Up Dick
05-11-2014, 04:35 AM
P.S., for Icelander53. I tried to watch the tune you suggested, but I couldn't down load it. Thanks again anyway.

05-11-2014, 05:08 AM
The tricky part to playing by ear, is that sometimes there are places when you can stay on a chord, and other times when you can add extra chords, and it all sounds fine. It sounds different, but still right. So, when to change and what chord to change to can be variable. The genre of the song can be your guide. It is probably easiest to attempt folk songs first, since they often use a simple set of chords. Knowing when to change comes with practice, and with a 3 chord song you have a 50-50 chance of guessing the right chord. I just play a chord until it doesn't sound right, then search for the proper one. If you restrict your choices to the chords in the key you are playing in, it becomes a lot easier. For example, the key of C would use C, F, and G7: the key of F would use F, Bb, C7. If you can play with other people, it can help as well, because you can watch when they change, and start to develop your ear.


05-11-2014, 07:43 AM
P.S., for Icelander53. I tried to watch the tune you suggested, but I couldn't down load it. Thanks again anyway.

Jambalaya on the Bayou - Hank Williams

Just go to youtube with that and you're good to go. And have fun.

05-11-2014, 07:50 AM
To a certain extent you need to be familiar with music and with the song...you will, over time if you play enough, develop a "feel" for not only when the chord change is coming but what chord to change to.

It helps to know a little basic theory so you know which are the primary and secondary chords in any key (i.e. the I, IV, V and the ii, vi, and occasionally the iii and dim vii). Knowing where chords tend to want to resolve helps, to. I.e. the V will generally resolve to the I, etc. Knowing all this isn't foolproof, there are many songs that violate all the "rules." However, learning to "pickup" songs by ear easily without knowing the simple ground rules is very difficult.