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How should I train my ears to recognize different 'flavours' of chords ?

I mean especially recognizing what fourth/fifth notes were added to the chord (beyond the minor/major triads) such as 7#9 etc. (I'm not trying to recognize the absolute pitch however).

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Have you done any other ear training? I highly recommend interval training as a first step. –  Matthew Read Jun 19 '11 at 17:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

GNU Solfege does this.


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took me a while to get it working but things like the 'repeat arpeggio' button are quite useful as an intermediate step to recognizing chords. –  Andre Holzner Jul 20 '11 at 22:02

MusicTheory.net has a flash application to practice chord recognition. It doesn't go into more complex chords like 7#9, but it presents 10 chords (typical four-note chords and triads). That's a starting point. There must be applications supporting more "advanced" chords but I'm not aware of them, so I typically end up programming my own.

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this indeed is useful ! Even though it 'only' has 10 types of chords, I'll first practice to get a reasonable rate of correct answers there. –  Andre Holzner Jun 19 '11 at 14:19

I released a game recently to do just this, for the first level of basic chords using common chord theory in wester music theory. Free demo downloads at http://games.sonicviz.com/chordskilz/

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If I am reading your question correctly, I believe you are referring to the type of chords besides just the chords. And you are referring to the 'feel' that each chord produces.

When it comes to forming chords, my advice is to forget about learning the scales if you want the fast track to getting chords. It will just like touching your nose the other way around. We can get back to the scale theory behind it later once you get to enjoy using it. In my profession, I strife to make learn as simple as possible for my 5000+ student in my 25 years of teaching. I hope this helps you.

I am backtracking a bit. Just bear with me for a while. When it comes to chord formation, I just think in terms of semitones (or half-steps in American Terms) and sharps and flats. With only 9 formulas, you can create at least 144 chords. There is absolutely nothing complicated with forming chords if you do it this way. Peel open your eyes and ears.

You already learnt that Chords are formed by pressing the Root note, next note 4 half steps up and then 3 half steps up. ie. C E and G in C chord. You can get every other major chords by using this R - 4 - 3 formula.

Now, to get the minor chord, just flatten the middle note (i.e. E flatted to E flat). So Cm chord = C Eb G. I do not want to use R - 3 - 4 because by doing so, you end up memorizing 12 formulas at least. I just want you to remember 9 for the time being)

For the suspended chord, just sharpen the middle note (i.e. E sharpened to F) Sharpen means raise the note 1 half step. So for Csus or Cs4 or Csus4 = C F G. You will get this is "McGyver's theme"

For the Diminished Fifth chord, just flatten the rightmost (fifth) note (i.e. G flatted to G flat). So Cm chord = C E Gb. It is most commonly used in m7-5 like in Cm7-5 which is C Eb Gb Bb. It will most commonly be used as Bm7-5 when playing songs in A minor key. Bm7-5 = B D F A. When playing Dm E7 Am progression, replace the Dm with Bm7-5 and you will get the an even more beautiful color to your song.

For the Augmented 5th chord, just sharpen the fifth, rightmost note (i.e. G sharpened to G#) So for CAug or C+5 or CAug5 = C E G+. You will find this is "Greatest Love of All" and "James Bond Theme"

Now for the 6th, 7th and Major 7th. Basically it means:

For 6th ADD a note 2 half steps from the 5th note. C6 will result in C E G A. You will find these sweet sounding chords prevalent in Hawaiian songs.

For 7th ADD a note 3 half steps from the 5th note. C7 will result in C E G Bb. These chords with "unfinished" feelings alway appear in pairs with root chords. I.e. G7 with C chord in C key; C7 with F Chord in F key; etc.

For Major7th ADD a note 4 half steps from the 5th note. CMaj7; CMaj;CM7 will result in C E G B. You will find these big broad sounding chords prevalent in Movie Themes to give you the big countryside feelings. You will also find it in songs with minor keys long root chord progressions like Feelings which goes Am - AmM7-Am7-Am6-Dm...

For Diminished Chords, this is a special exception. All the 4 notes are 3 half steps apart. ie. Cdim = C Eb Gb A. You will find these weird sounding chords prevalent in Hawaiian and Jazz songs as a passing chord ie. C C#dim Dm G7.... or C Ebdim Dm G7..... One of Bach's songs also uses this (I forgot the name) which is commonly used in Dracula Vampire movies. Try it out and see.

For all the above, you will see that all these adds to the color of sound and like an artist, these are your shades that will help you paint your masterpieces. How you use them will determine the quality and output of your music.

With the above, you can create 144 chords at least. Test it out as below

Major (try out all the 12 chords)
Minor (try out all the 12 chords)
7th (try out all the 12 chords)
m7th (try out all the 12 chords)
m7-5 (try out all the 12 chords)
dim (try out all the 12 chords)
6th (try out all the 12 chords)
7th (try out all the 12 chords)
Maj7 (try out all the 12 chords)
Dim (try out all the 12 chords)
Aug5 (try out all the 12 chords)
Sus4 (try out all the 12 chords)

With so much 144 colors, you should have enough to paint your masterpieces. Only after mastering these, we worry about the 9ths, 11ths, 13ths later.

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-1: The asker wants to recognize these chords aurally; this answer is about generating chords formulaically. –  NReilingh Jun 25 '11 at 20:21

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