Have you ever wondered how guitarists know what chord to play? How do they instantly know which key to play in? Perhaps you’ve been trying to learn how to play a particular chord. Chord progression is one of the central elements of music, and knowing how to play any chord in any key is an essential part of developing your playing.
Whether you’re looking to impress your friends at a party or just want an easier way to learn new chords without spending hours agonising over every note, this guide will show you exactly how guitar players know what chords they are playing.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways people learn new chords and explore the secrets that musicians use every day – whether they realise it or not!
Theory: The Key to Knowing Chords
Theory is the key to knowing chords. While you can memorise a chord by ear, you’ll get really really really bad at it in a really really really short time! Memorizing a chord by ear takes years of practise and is only useful if you want to play by ear.
However, once you understand how notes work, you can apply these techniques to any instrument and any style.
To learn how guitar players know what chords they are playing, you need to understand how chords work and how they are made. A chord is simply the combination of three or more notes played together.
This combination of notes creates a harmonic relationship between each other, called a ‘chord’. A chord can be any combination of notes, but guitars only have 7 different notes that can be played together, so the most common chords are all the notes of the major scale.
Because the guitar only has 7 different notes, you can use the relative minor scale to get the same chord. There are many ways to combine notes, and these chords can be strung together to create a melody.
However, chords and the notes they are made from can often be used to describe feelings and create atmosphere.
Chord Chart: Learn the Notes of Every chord
This is a great way to learn the notes of any chord. The majority of chords are built from the notes of the major scale, so learning the notes of every major chord is essential to being able to play any song! While you don’t need to know the names of the notes, you can use the chart to learn the names of notes as you learn them.
You can also refer back to the chart to check you have the right notes if you start to have any troubles. The chart below outlines the notes of the C Major Scale, which is the most common chord in pop, rock, country and other mainstream styles. The key to understanding any chord chart is in understanding the relationship of each note.
Chord Memorization: Hear a chord and you’ll memorize it!
This is a really simple concept that many people overlook. When you learn the notes of a chord, you can ‘hear’ them in your head. When you do this, you make a connection between each note and the other notes, like building a mental ‘map’ for yourself. After you learn the notes of a chord, play it once and then close your eyes and try to remember where the chord was. You’ll likely be able to visualize the chord very clearly in your mind. Try this with different chords and see what happens!
Memorization is a great way to help you learn new chords and stay motivated when you are learning something new. You can memorize a chord by listening to it over and over as you practice. When you’re having a particularly bad day and can’t seem to get motivated, play the chord over and over again until you ‘see’ it in your head.
Guitar Training Wheels: You know a new chord but can’t play it yet
This is a common problem that occurs when you try to learn a new song. You know the notes of a chord but you don’t know how to play them yet. This is a really common problem for guitarists because it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of trying to memorize a new song. Memorizing too many notes can lead you to a state of paralysis and make it seem impossible to learn. However, memorizing a chord will not make you automatically able to play it. Sometimes the notes are too far away from the chord you’re used to playing and you need to build up your finger strength first. This is when you can use finger training wheels to help you build strength and speed.
Playing Along With Songs: Studying music will help you learn chords faster
This is a really under-rated way to learn chords. Every time you play a song, you are actually learning the chords. If you make a conscious effort to learn the chords, you can learn a lot in short periods of time. Every time you pick up a guitar, you’re playing melodies with chords. Usually you’re playing a simple melody, but in reality, you’re playing melodies with a whole range of chords underneath. It’s important to learn the different chords used in popular songs, and you can use this as a way to speed up your chord progression. If you want to get to the next chord quicker, you can always play the chords you need ahead of time!
Chords are the basis of music, and the more you learn about how they work and how they are built, the easier it will be to navigate the music world. Chords are essential to understanding how a song is put together and what emotions it is trying to convey.
Learning how to play any chord in any key will give you a new level of confidence as a musician, and with practice, you’ll be able to take your playing to the next level.