What to Do to Improve Your Ear (4 Steps)

Do you need help playing songs by ear? How well can you hear note movements and chord sounds? Are you able to just listen to a song and learn how to play it without the use of any sheet music or chord charts?

There is a secret to getting started with doing this type of song learning by ear, and it simply involves listening to low bass tones and learning four basic moveable chord shapes located on the lower guitar strings.

The real trick with all of this is to start training yourself on how to map out the sounds of bass tones so that later on, you can test how chord qualities of major and minor interact with every root note.


IMPORTANT: Please realize, that developing this skill will take both time and patience, so it is a good idea to start doing this work with more manageable songs.

That means, I wouldn’t begin trying to do this with say a Mozart – Concerto (or even anything remotely close to something that complicated). Start with easy tunes and as you get better - move your way up from there to more complicated songs.

The first thing that is important to understand is that you need to start by focusing on your lowest guitar strings. So that means your 6th, 5th and 4th strings are where we’ll be listening closely for a link to the bass-tone. For this lesson, we'll focus on the 6th and 5th strings.

This is important because these low tones are the easiest for your ear to listen for and recognize. Low strings make up the root notes that our songs will use for about 95% of all chords that we play on guitar, with a majority of them being on either the; 6th or 5th strings.

So, we’ll start there. If you do not already know the basic bar chords on the guitars, 5th and 6th strings, then get to know your 5th and 6th string major and minor shapes as soon as possible... They look like this…



When you start out at learning a new piece, listen closely to the songs chord changes (otherwise known as the songs Harmony). 

Analyze everything from lowest bass register tones. Zero in on the bass guitar if possible. Get a clear idea of how the chord changes relate to each singular bass note off of the guitars 6th and 5th strings.

At this stage of the game, don’t worry about whether you’re dealing with a major or a minor chord. Just focus entirely on locating each of those low bass notes.

In order for you to really understand this, listen to a group of chord changes in my "Progression 1 example," below, and pay close attention to all of the lowest bass tones to understand exactly what I’m talking about.

All it comes down to is hunting for bass-tones… listen closely…

Progression One:

If you patiently listen to the practice progression and closely study the sound of the lowest bass tones, you will eventually wind up hearing an A, move up into a D, then over to the bass tone of “E” and finally back to the A to resolve the progression.

When you do this work with the study piece (progression one) you’ll discover that the “A” tone starts and finishes our progression. And, once you realize that, you’ve also just discovered that the “Root” of the keys progression, is obviously the tone of “A.”

The final part of our "learning by ear exercise" involves testing the sound of whether those low singular bass tones relate over to chord types that are major or minor quality.

Almost 90% of all chords used in songs are of the basic major or minor variety. Sure, there are also dominant chords, and there’s diminished and augmented, but those chords don’t necessarily show up as much as the Major and Minor.

Plus, once you learn about the use of basic major and minor chords, if there are any remaining odd sounds (that don’t make sense in a song that you’re learning), you can always practice and test those other chord types. Doing that work will lead you to finding out what the shapes are for Diminished, Augmented and many others.

Grab a chord book, or a chord app so that you can start trying different chord patterns out on your guitar. That will help you with discovering how and where those other chord qualities can fit musically. Over time your ear will start to remember those sounds.

Before we wrap things up, I’d like to, expand upon all of this with one more progression that will be a little more complex.

Listen to chord progression two and test all of the skill building principles.

- Listen for the bass-tone
- Listen for both major and minor chord quality

Here’s our new chord progression. I’ll give you a hint, it’s still based in the key of, “A Major.” Here’s what it sounds like...

Progression Two:

In progression two, you can hear right away that there is a much busier sense of chord movement. This means that you’ll need to take your time (and use trial and error) to discover where the root notes are located across the 6th and 5th strings.

Once you’ve discovered those single-note bass-tones, keep playing the chord progression over and over, and while those tones move past, simply test those major and minor quality chord sounds until you ultimately nail down the correct types…



Once you start building your skill with this form of close-listening to chord progressions, (and once you start using this system to listen to all kinds of different songs - gaining experience), you’re going to begin noticing a new level of ability and control when it comes to learning by ear.

This new-found control over your ears and your ability to listen closer to music will not only help you to hear music better, but these skills will also help you better determine the roots of chords and the (Major and Minor) chord qualities as well.

As time goes on, you'll inevitably learn more complex chord types, plus your ear will become more advanced in it's ability to hear notes more easily. And, down the road, there won't be much you'll come across that you wouldn't be able to lift off by ear and ear alone.

Thanks for joining me, If you'd like to Find Out What You Should Learn Next on Guitar - take a look at the courses over on my website at CreativeGuitarStudio.com.

My step-by-step; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced courses will cover what you need to know, along with how to be able to move forward and become the best player that you can be.

I've worked on these courses since 1992 and I feel that all together they're the best guitar program you'll ever find.

The courses will help you learn to identify what's required to get you up to the next level of guitar playing, in a very organized way, that makes sense.

So, I look forward to helping you further at CreativeGuitarStudio.com

As always, if you enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up and subscribe for more on YouTube, until next time, take care and we'll catch up again on the next video. Bye for now!



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