I am practicing finding the chord of songs by my ears and I only play guitar. However, I see some pop songs(where uses pianos) have low C chords which the guitar doesn't have (The guitar can't go as low as piano as you know E is the lowest bass). When I am trying to match the bass note by playing every note on my guitar, I can't tell that was the C base chord since I will have to play C that has a different octave from the original chord. How can I figure this out by my ear(that it was C although the octave was different)? I know ears of practice will help me but does this mean I should start playing the piano to help my musical sense of listening? Is there any tips at least I can try to convince myself to tell the chord was right?

  • I understand you to mean that if you hear a low C and a high C (for example), you aren't able to tell by ear that both notes are C; is that correct?
    – Aaron
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 15:17
  • @Aaron Correct! Especially when I am trying to figure out the chord! Commented May 13, 2021 at 15:26
  • It could be alternate tuning, or produced by a pedal or other effect.
    – user50691
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 11:50

2 Answers 2


All C notes have a certain 'C-ness' about them! That's why they're all C!

It will be experience that helps you to discern which C is which, and while it's entirely possible to match Cs exactly using piano, which has the lower ones too, compared to guitar, there's really no need. Just get accustomed to recognising various octaves of the same note, high and low.

Playing the chord you think is right is the best way - if it matches what you hear, then it's good. But also get used to hearing the blend of the three notes in a triad, and recognising which is the root. Playing only three notes in a chord will help that - as there are various inversions which have an uncanny knack of throwing you off the scent.

Also be aware of 'chord families'. There's little point in trying a C♯ chord while the song's in key C - there are far more likely candidates, namely the 3 majors and 3 minors that occur diatonically. Always a good start point.

  • Wouldn't recognizing 'C-ness' requires having a perfect pitch? Can I get that without it? Oh, also, when you hear the inversion of the chord, can you tell which chord that is even the base is different(inversion)? Commented May 13, 2021 at 15:43
  • Certainly not. Most musos (and most others) will understand that one octave C has a relationship with C in another octave. An inversion will, with some practice at listening, sound like the chord itself hasn't changed - only its voicing.
    – Tim
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 16:35
  • @Backrub32 No, no perfect pitch required as long as you know what key the song is in already. If you know it's in C major, for example, then you can figure out that all the tonic notes are C, all the mediant notes are E, etc. for the entire song!
    – user45266
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 23:53
  • Thank you for the tips @Tim @user45266! I will try to practice in those ways! Commented May 14, 2021 at 2:50

Just a technical term to help the discussion: pitch class. When you talk about a particular pitch and all its various octaves they are all collectively called a pitch class. Also, octaves can be identified by number, for example, E2 is the low E string on guitar, E1 would be the low E on a bass guitar.

Eventually you want to hear the pitch regardless of octave, the pitch class. Also, you want to hear pitch in relative terms too, relative to the tonic, relative to a chord root, relative to pitches before/after.

So, as you listen to the bass part you ideally want to not only match the pitch with your guitar, but recognize it in ways like: it's the third of the chord, or the bass descended a fifth, and so on. If you can do that, you don't need to literally match the pitch on your guitar.

Some things you can try in the meantime, while trying to train your ear are: shift the whole bass line up an octave so that you can play it on guitar while maintaining the melodic shape of the line. So, for example if the bass guitar played E2 D2 E2 you can't play that low D2 on guitar, so instead play it up one octave as E3 D3 E3. You may need to get used to the octave shift, but keeping the shape of the line may help you figure out the changes. Try palm muting the guitar string while you play, it will cut a lot of the higher overtones and may make it match a bit better with the bass guitar, at least it helps me sometimes. One other thing is, if you're feeling really stuck, get a cheap little electronic keyboard and use a bass sound to figure out bass lines.

Patterns are really important in music. Learning some common bass patterns will surely help with figuring out bass parts. At a certain point you want to stop thinking about identifying each note separately and hear patterns, for example the bass walked up to the fourth scale degree in half steps.

You don't need to learn piano, meaning you don't need to become a pianist, but for ear training the common instrument to use is keyboard. Playing the basic chords and scales on keyboard will be helpful to ear training.

  • Thank you so much for the tips! I guess I will have to work on my skills! Commented May 14, 2021 at 2:53

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