Chord Ear Training

We’ve established that ear training is perhaps the most important skill in music. Without it, it will be difficult to translate the ideas in your head into real music on an instrument. Harmony ear training is a little harder to practice than melody ear training, but I’ll do my best to give you exercises that will help you.

The more melody ear training you do, the easier harmony ear training will be. I would recommend that you be able to do the first and second melody ear training exercises with ease, without hesitation, as if it is second nature. This will make harmony ear training easier. If you can identify a random sequence of notes on a scale, you can probably figure out how to identify two or more notes being played at the same time. At the very least, melody ear training will help you to identify one of the notes in a harmony, which will provide clues about the rest.

That being said, it’s never too early to start harmony ear training. You’ll be hearing a lot of harmony throughout your life, so it doesn’t hurt to learn to identify it (as long as you don’t fall into the ear training trap), regardless of your melody ear training ability.

Harmony Ear Training Exercise 2: Types of Chords

A good place to start is by attempting to identify major and minor chords. You can start by having a friend play a major or minor chord, and guess which type of chord was played. This is fairly easy. You have a 50 percent chance of getting it right. If it sounds happy, it’s probably a major chord, and if it sounds sad, it’s probably a minor chord. I’m confident you’ll be able to master this exercise very quickly. If you want to make it more difficult, your friend could use chord inversions too.

Usually, music teachers will then ask you to add two more types of three-note chords, the diminished chord, and the augmented chord. We touched on the diminished chord briefly (it’s the chord starting on the seventh note of the major scale, or the second note of the minor scale), but we haven’t looked at the augmented chord. The augmented chord is like a major chord but the fifth is raised by one semitone. For example, C, E, and G# make a C augmented chord. Diminished and augmented chords aren’t very common in many styles of music, so it might not be helpful for you to learn how to distinguish between them and other kinds of chords. I would recommend learning these chords if you want to play jazz or classical.

You could stick to just the major and minor chords, but if you are interested in expanding your chord vocabulary even further you can add many more chords to this exercise. I introduce more types of chords later in chapter 13.

If you want an online game that helps you practice identifying chords, I recommend this one.