A chord progression serves as the backbone of a song – the harmonic skeleton that supports the melodies, vocals, and embellishments layered overtop. The sequence in which chords are strung together sets the tone of the song – in fact, just three chords are enough to tell a story.

In our last three Resource Packs, our Resident Pros have offered their unique insights on playing by ear on their instruments of expertise – covering first melodies and basslines, then the chords that provide context to the music and help hold a song together.

For Part 4 in the Play By Ear series, our Resident Pros tackle the topic of chord progressions, sharing their knowledge on recognizing, playing, and writing your own progressions – each with instrument-specific insights and exercises, as well as MP3 practice tracks to help you connect the concepts to actual sounds.

As for you singers, our resident pro has something special for you to add to your toolkit – a skill that will let you match pitch and learn to sing any song – regardless of vocal range – by learning to recognize and sing octaves.


Each human voice occupies a unique vocal range, allowing for voices to blend together to create beautiful polyphonic textures.

However, in order to sing with others, or sing a song by a vocalist with a different range than you, you’ll need to match pitch in a different octave – and differences in vocal ranges can make this a tricky exercise.

This month, Clare Wheeler teaches the concept of singing in octaves – a tool that will help you sing any song you wish in a register that is comfortable and natural for you:


  • How to recognize octaves and sing the interval
  • Matching pitch between two voices in different octaves
  • How to sing along with something in a different octave
  • MP3 tracks to sing along to in different octaves


Basslines are commonly the root notes of the chord progressions they support, and are therefore the perfect starting point for recognizing chord progressions themselves.

In this instrument pack, Steve Lawson connects the bassline of a song to its harmony, exploring the concept of hearing progressions in basslines, and how you can use your audiation skills to aid this process:


  • How to recognize pairs of chords within a key
  • Understanding chord voicings with the help of voice leading
  • Chord shapes that enable you to hear progressions on other instruments
  • Scores and tabs to help you visualize chords, progressions, and voicings
  • MP3 practice tracks for hearing chord voicings and recognize pairs of chords in a key

This Instrument Pack is geared towards helping you use the root notes and basslines of progressions to hear them in any context – a must-have for the versatile musician.


We can often predict the next chord in a progression – our ears intuitively just know what should come next. However, sometimes you hear a chord in a song that just… throws you off.

Thankfully, there are numerous ways you can figure out the mystery chord. In this month’s instrument pack, Dylan Welsh shares his intuitive, ear-based approach:


  • A description of various chord qualities you’ll come across besides major and minor
  • How to use the bassline to hear the root of a chord
  • How to use emotional qualifiers to determine the quality of a chord
  • MP3 tracks with modified chord progressions so you can hear the differences in chord quality

By listening for the moods or emotional qualifiers of chords, you can easily and intuitively determine what kind of chord you’re hearing – and contextualize it in the progression you hear it in.


You can think of a chord progression as a mini-story, with each chord telling a different part.

In this month’s Piano Instrument Pack, resident pro Ruth Power explores how chords in sequence create a narrative, how rearranging the order of the chords changes the mood of a progression, and the rule of thumb for deciphering a chord progression – and as our other resident pros have pointed out, the trick lies in the bassline:


  • The most common chord progression and how to build it
  • Functions of different chords in a progression
  • Altering a chord progression’s mood by adding just one chord
  • A handy chord symbol overview to help you recognize notation
  • Exercises for chord matching, chord progression recognition, and hearing bass notes
  • Video tutorials to illustrate concepts

Coming up next month…

Next month, we’ll continue our play-by-ear journey with a focus on an under-explored aspect of playing an instrument: getting in rhythm. As for you singers, our next Instrument Pack will focus on transposition, a skill which will enable you to sing a piece of music in a key that is optimally suited to your voice.

An Instrument Pack membership gives you access to training specifically-tailored to your instrument from our Resident Pros. Choose the instrument pack option during checkout when you join Musical U, or upgrade your existing membership to get instant access.