Free Mini-Course: Play Chords By Ear
Lesson 6: Play Three Songs By Ear

This lesson is based on the Chord Progression Recognition module from Musical U.
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It’s the final lesson of this “play chords by ear” mini-course – which means it’s time to really put your new skills to use!

In this lesson you’re going to play three popular songs by ear using the I-IV-V recognition skills you’ve developed in the mini-course.

We’ll talk you through the process a bit and offer hints, but it’s up to you to figure out which chords to play when, and you’ll be able to take this process and apply it to hundreds and thousands of other songs in future!

SONG 1: Happy Birthday

We’re going to start with a song you’ll have heard many times before and one which is really handy to know how to play by ear: Happy Birthday to You!

It may not be the coolest song around, but every play-by-ear musician should know how to handle this one…

In case you’ve forgotten how it goes, here’s a recording:

Your first step for playing a song by ear should be to figure out the key. That’s something we teach fully inside Musical U but we’ve glossed over it in this mini-course.

There’s a simple shortcut you can use for now: just try different notes on your instrument and see which one sounds good throughout the song. With practice you’ll be able to find the right note quickly. This is the “tonic” (i.e. the root of the I chord) and so will go particularly well with the first and last chord of the song.

Hint 1: This recording of Happy Birthday is in the key of G Major.

Listen to the song and try to identify the I, IV and V chords. Use the tips from previous days’ lessons.

This is a good song to start with because it’s short and the chords don’t change very often.

Hint 2: The chord changes happen on these words:
Line 1: “Happy birthday to you
Line 2: “Happy birthday to you
Line 3: “Happy birthday dear name
Line 4: “Happy birthday to you!”

Hint 3: The progression is very similar to one you practiced in yesterday’s lesson.

If you’re having difficulty, check out this great mini tutorial (note: in the key of C)

So, could you figure it out? You just played your first song by ear – and learned a handy skill for the next birthday party you go to!

SONG 2: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Although this is an incredibly popular and well known song, it actually has one of the simplest chord progressions possible! And of course it uses just the I, IV and V chords you know well by now.

Try to figure out the chords by ear. First just listen and see if you can hear the I, the IV and the V. Then you can check, using your instrument.

Hint 1: The key of this song is G Major.

Hint 2: Although the guitar riff is quite intricate, there are just three chords used and the progression is the same throughout the song.

Hint 3: The progression is very similar to one which you practiced with in yesterday’s lesson.

Could you figure it out? It’s a fun one to play along with, isn’t it?

SONG 3: Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire

The third song for you to play by ear is a Johnny Cash classic, “Ring Of Fire”.

This song has a different pattern for the verse and the chorus so it’s a bit more challenging. The arrangement is also quite sparse, in country style, so it can be a bit harder to hear the chords clearly. If you need to, experiment with your instrument to see what sounds right.

Hint 1: You already worked out when the I chord happens when you practiced with this song in Lesson 3. If you need to, go back and read the advice there.

Hint 2: The verse pattern is the same as one of the progressions you practiced with yesterday.

Hint 3: The chorus begins with the same pattern you just figured out for Sweet Home Alabama.

Could you work it out?

Remember to trust your ears. If you’re unsure of the chords you’ve chosen you can check yourself by searching for the chords online (this site tends to be a good one).

And although we normally only provide 1-on-1 help within Musical U we’re making an exception for people taking this mini-course: so if you get stuck just leave a comment in the “Discussion” area below and we’ll be happy to help.

“Chords By Ear”
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Musical-U-LogoThis free mini-course is based on training modules from Musical U.

Membership of Musical U makes it easy to go in-depth and master all of the topics covered in this mini-course, and then take your skills even further.

In this mini-course we’ve used just excerpts from a small number of the training modules inside Musical U.

If during the course you have wanted:

  • More information on a particular lesson
  • Extra resources to help you practice
  • Personal help when you get stuck
  • More advanced material
  • Other topics such as playing melodies or improvising
  • A clear plan of action that exactly suits your abilities and goals

… then Musical U could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Although the training system and resources inside (not to mention the personal expert help) would be worth several hundred dollars individually, we’ve managed to keep monthly membership priced at a level we hope makes it accessible to anybody who has a passion for music and reaching their true musical potential.

If you’ve enjoyed this mini-course and want more, we hope you’ll consider joining us at Musical U. Just click below to learn more about what Musical U could do for you:

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Musical U membership includes full personal support and guidance on your training.

Although we can’t provide the same level of in-depth coaching as part of this free course, please post any questions you have in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help!