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Hearing Chord Changes

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by George Lenz, Sep 17, 2001.

  1. Are there any good methods for learning to hear what chord a song is going to next? I'm new to the forum and this is my first post and I will probably get torn apart for this but here goes. I learned to play on my own and also do my own luthier work on my bass (Englehart ES1). All of my playing is by ear and in a jam session type setting. I prefer old country and western swing but do play a little bluegrass. The wife and I play strictly for the fun of it as part of our new life after kids (a concept only understood by us old folks). I am always interested in improving. What to play isn't the problem but where to play it is sometimes. I do a lot of walking bass and I would like to go to the right chord more often than I do now. I do have a good understanding of music theory.
  2. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    Just play as much as you can with others and listen to as much music as you can. If you are jamming frequently with others, your ear will naturally sharpen and you will begin to feel certain changes and phrases. Another trick for bluegrass is to learn the fingerings that guitarists use for basic chords and watch them as they play.
  3. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Ditto what Jim said. Nothing beats just plain old familiarity with the genre...it's always been my saving grace that I tend to dive into a style headlong and really focus on it, both playing and listening. It's really helped me.

    I'm also lucky, too, that the guitar player in my bluegrass/roots/country band is also a great bassist and I can tell where he's headed almost to the point of telepathy.
  4. Thanks for the input. I guess I'm pretty much on track since that is what I have been doing. I do ok on most 4 or 5 chord songs but some still seem to elude me no matter how many times I've played them. I guess there are some songs you just have to memorize the chord progression to.
  5. Here's the tip I learned from Rufus Reid's book: stand behind the piano player and watch his left hand. I always felt like I was cheating doing this, but once I read it, I felt validated. Its a great way to figure out the basics of a tune, as the piano player will tend to play more left hand until the bass line is swinging. Or I guess the real point is to watch whoever is most familiar with the tune closely at first (a time or two through or whatever).
  6. I don't play with a piano anymore but sometimes I have watched the rhythm guitar players hands like Jim said at the top. Sometimes that's one of those necessary evils you have to do to survive a song you don't know. The problem is that by the time you see where they are going and then you go there your bass note is a late and behind the beat. This is especially bad in bluegrass where you need to be on top of or a hair ahead of the beat. This is a big part of what gives bluegrass it's drive and makes it go. This is one thing we all need to keep an eye on so it does't become a bad habit no matter what kind of music you are playing.
  7. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    George, I wouldn't jump in here if you were a jazz or orchestral player because I could fill a big book up with things that I DON'T know about those genres of music.

    On the other hand, I do know something about bluegrass after over 40 years of playing it.

    First and foremost, unless you know the melody of the song well enough to sing, whistle or hum it, either out loud or in your head, there is no way that you can possibly do a walking line over all the chord changes.

    Stated simply, if you don't know the tune, you simply cannot play it. You particularly cannot play a walking line because if you don't know where the tune is going you cannot possibly know where a walking line is going.

    I play walking bass on practically every song that I play in performance. Untill I learn the song, I stick to root five.

    If I don't know the song, I simply ask for the chord progression and hope I can remember it through the course of the song. If there are more than 3 chords in the song, I usually can't. I don't need to remember if I can see the guitarist' left hand.

    Granted, the chord changes on the bass may be one beat late with this method but by treating the late beat as an accidental, a walk between chord changes sounds OK untill you get the song down cold. This usually only takes a couple of verses with bluegrass because bluegrass is comparitively very simple.

    Another thing that I keep in mind:, How many bluegrass songs need a walking bass line all the way through the song? It usually makes for a better bass line to do a full walking bass line on the instrumental breaks only, anyway. Don't want to be TOO busy with the bass line.:)

  8. I agree Pkr2. I do most of my walking bass on western swing and mostly walk in and out of chord changes in bluegrass. You do have to have the base note of the chord before you can do any walking. Maybe it's just that some people seem to be more gifted at hearing chord changes than others. I notice this especially when somebody does a song that they wrote and I know that nobody in the group has ever played it before. I've been playing about 8 years and I'm getting better but still a long ways from where I want to be.
  9. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    George, something tells me that your knowledge is better than you might believe. Great to strive to be better but there's lots of value in giving yourself all the credit you deserve, too. Confidence is a powerful tool.
  10. There is more than one point of view to everything. Even though we are listening to the same thing at the same time, my point of view as the player is different from the listeners point of view. I hear what should have been played and they don't. This is a little off the subject but it has to do with confidence. Bass players are treated worst than any other member of a group, especially if that is all you do. The only time you really get noticed is if you don't play at all or you play out of time. You can play a whole fist full of wrong notes and only you or another bass player will notice. Just to see if anybody was paying attention to what I was doing, onetime, I played an entire song in the wrong chord and nobody noticed a thing. Now isn't that a good confidence builder? I am fortunate in that I have the opportunity to play with musicians from different states every weekend.
  11. Heh so THAT'S what it is when I play a song in the wrong key! An experiment!
  12. Didn't you check the results of your experiment? Did anybody even notice your experiment?
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I don't know anything about bluegrass, but I can relate to these comments about walking lines and learning changes from trying to play Jazz for about the last 4 years.

    I go along to Jazz workshops every week and often there is more than one bassplayer - so you get to compare notes and assess your own standard etc.
    Generally, people expect that given the age I am, that I will know loads of Jazz standards and have things worked out to play, but as I have only taken up Jazz recently I know very few compared with most Jazz bass players I meet.

    But when we get an original tune and especially something that is different from the "norm" I often find I am doing better than other more experienced players or at least am on the same level. I find I am hungry for new structures and sets of changes, but often get bored with simpler ones and struggle to find new things to do that interest me.

    So this leads to strange situations where one week I am treated like a virtual beginner, as I am struggling with a standard that most Jazz bass players have played hundreds or thousands of times before and have loads of variations and solid walking lines already in their heads.

    Whereas other weeks it's completely the opposite. So for example, there was a workshop with a trumpter/bandleader who brought along all original tunes he had written and arranged himself, which really inspired me and he asked for my phone number for when he needed a bassplayer when he was touring Europe - he's Swedish!

    Both situations are sort of unsatisfactory to me, as I'm not really ready for true professional status but being considered a beginner has a kind of demotivating effect on me. I've talked to my Jazz tutor and he say that you have to be able to play good stuff on a 12 bar blues or a simple standard.

    But I suspect that a lot of the experienced bass players in Jazz are relying on their experience and apply this to sequences and know what will keep the rest of the band happy in certain situations. It's not a question of them "hearing the changes" any better than someone else; but rather that they have heard things like this many times before and can guess where it's going very easily. But if you gave them something unorthodox, they would be back in the same place as the rest of us who have less experience.
  14. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.
    [It's not a question of them "hearing the changes" any better than someone else; but rather that they have heard things like this many times before and can guess where it's going very easily. ]Quote by Bruce

    Very well said, Bruce. That concept holds up very well in bluegrass music as well. When you mentally kick out everything that wont work, the choices become much fewer.

    Having listened to your sound clip in an earlier post, I think you may be selling yourself a bit short.:)

  15. To Jason, Bruce, pkr2: I can't say that disagree with anything that was said. I have done a lot of the things that Jason and Bruce mentioned with varying degrees of success. I think it's safe to say that the problem is all in my head. :D
  16. Glad to see you're ok as there have been a lot of threads in hear wondering if you were alright. Not having had any formal training I learned a long time ago that there aren't any rules when it comes to what chord is comming up next. If I have a good lead voice (instrument or vocal) I do pretty good on 4 chord songs. I listen to the melody and try to play a bass line that flows with the melody. If a lead player goes into left field adlibing and gets away from the melody I get lost. When I hear a chord change comming I couldn't tell you if it is a half step or whole step away.

    My walking bass is based on a 6th chord of whatever chord the song is in at the time. The patterns are easy to do with the left hand and there are a lot of possible variations. Do you think working out another walking bass line based on a different chord would help? I hear almost all chord changes in a song I just can't always tell which chord it's going to.


    Some formal training with ear training would have probably eliminated a lot of my problems. But when a song goes from C major to a C7, I hear the change and try to find out where it went when all I need to do is stay where I'm at.
  17. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Hey, George, you have already gotten a lot of great answers from the DB guys down here.

    I just wanted to see how things are in Heber. I lived there for a couple of years back in the early 80's.
  18. Hello Jeff, The guys down here in DB are great. I tend to ask questions that don't have a definite answer but they are a lot of help. I moved here in 1980. It hasn't grown very much, about 5600 now. We do all of our playing in Mt. View now. Did you ever go up there and play on the square?

  19. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    George, I'm not trying to be the wet blanket and pardon me if I'm repeating the obvious or previously-stated: Learning to read music and learning music theory really help you "hear" changes on-the-fly. Understanding "why" things sound is, at the minimum, an enormous help to understanding "how" changes sound.
  20. Samuel, I agree. I think I got a hint from something Ed said. This is about as hard to explain as hearing the next chord change. Just as an example take, the three major keys of G,D, and A, and go from the base chord of each key to an E chord. In a song, the lead in to each of these chord changes sounds different even though they are all going to an E chord. I think I need to relate the chord change to the base chord in terms of steps from the base chord.


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