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I'm doing ear training to identify chord progressions. I don't have problem playing a melody by ear. my goal is to play chords by ear and recognize them in different songs. To this day, I've already learned to identify I IV V triads. When hearing the progression I-IV-V, I sing it with solfege syllables of the bass note as "DO FA SO", no matter what the key is I always use the same syllables "DO FA SO" (what's called "Moveable DO"),even for minor chords. In this way I remember the intervals between the bass notes and the whole sequence of chords. This is fairly easy for me and works pretty well!

But I would like to advance with some more harmonic degrees (more progressions) and I came into a problem: Let's say I hear the progression I-vi-IV-V. I want to memorize it .How do I vocalize this sequence of chords? what is the best way? Should I sing "DO LA FA SO"? how to emphasize that "LA" is "LA minor" . Another example: The progression I-vi-ii-V, should I sing "DO LA RE SO"? or is there any better way to do this?

Another problem is: How do I stress the function of the chord while singing? meaning: I know that vi is similar to the tonic I, and ii is similar to IV , How can I emphasize this principle while memorizing the progression...

On the other way .If it's not possible to really sing chord progressions, How should I hear the progression in my inner mind, should I just remember how it sounds (seems difficult) or can I assign to each chord a musical name that will remind me the chord or the sound of it. but which "names" should I use?

I saw in another questions that there are some who pronounce the numbers, does it mean to sing the numbers and is it a better method ? How can one actually do that?

I have saw the question How to use solfege for chords? but it doesn't answer clearly what to do and how to really memorize progressions of chords....

I would like to have detailed instructions for what actually do. how to memorize the progressions and use them later for playing chords by ear or recognizing them in different songs. That's an information that I didn't find in this site or in the free internet. If I were a student at a music school, what would they teach me to do? I'm looking for a detailed practical guide.

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  • You should edit your previous question (How to pronounce chord progressions) rather than re-posting. Or, if you have a new question that is related but different, reference it with a link rather than repeating it. Jan 31 at 20:39
  • the answers to the previous question talking about all another concept, not what I intended to ask, so how can i replace the question while the answers still exist? i wrote it in a comment there..
    – Ynk
    Jan 31 at 20:53
  • "It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, a minor fall, a major lift..."
    – Divizna
    Jan 31 at 21:05
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    You're right, it can be a problem when people edit questions so that existing answers no longer make sense. But in my opinion the new material shown here is close enough to the original question that answers would still make sense. It seems to have grown simply from "what should I say" to "what should I sing." I'm going to vote to close this one as a duplicate and encourage you to add its material to the original question. Jan 31 at 21:38
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    Does this answer your question? How to pronounce chord progressions Jan 31 at 21:39

5 Answers 5

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You cannot represent chords by singing single notes. All you can do with single notes is sing the bass notes of the chords you are thinking of. There is no way to establish chord quality by singing only roots or bass notes.

One thing you can do is sing the notes in chords as arpeggios. Here is an example of one way to do that using a I vi IV V progression:

enter image description here

By doing this you are singing all the chord tones for each chord. I used 4/4 time to emphasize the root notes with a strong beat that is longer than the other two of each chord. You can also use 3/4 time and make the notes all the same duration or create your own way of doing it.

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  • But you can sing something that identifies the chord regardless of what pitch you're singing. For example, you could rewrite the lyrics in the image as "To-nic and sub-me-diant, sub-dom'-nant, dom-i-nant, home!"
    – phoog
    Feb 1 at 11:27
  • @phoog Yes you can, very catchy! The OP seems to want to use solfège syllables so that is what I used for the example I provided Feb 1 at 13:49
  • Note: in movable do systems "ti" is used instead of "si" for the leading tone because a raised fifth is called "si". WIth la-based minor and movable do we sing a lot of "do ti la si la". Feb 1 at 15:57
  • @ToddWilcox Noted. Wouldn’t that also apply to fixed do or does a raised 5th have a different name? Feb 1 at 18:15
  • @phoog How can something like that work? Does what I'm singing needn't remind me the sound of it? How can I memorize such a thing?
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 19:49
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+25

As a former music school student and current composition/music theory teacher, I think we need to go back to your intention.

use them later for playing chords by ear or recognizing them in different songs If I were a student at a music school, what would they teach me to do?

You want to be able to hear a chord progression, and know what the "roman numeral" progression is. For the sake of brevity, I will assume you can play a keyboard or other polyphonic instrument(s), and also assume you know how to play chords by knowing the roman numerals – though in music school, we took piano lessons which taught us to know how to play chords both by reading western notation and roman numerals.

First of all, music students spend 4+ years building up to this as one of the end goals, and not everyone makes it out with this ability (though the students with perfect pitch caught on quickly), so be easy on yourself.

If you want to learn the same way a music school student would, the way I learned this was though a combination of:

  • listening to chord progressions while studying the sheet music with roman numeral analysis above each chord
  • listening to cadences (i.e. authentic, half, plagal, deceptive, etc.) - this will help you understand chord functions
  • LOTS of practice telling chord progressions and cadences apart (I highly recommend you get an aural theory workbook that comes with a CD/mp3), because there's really no substitute for being quizzed on this
  • analyzing sheet music and put the roman numerals above each chord change (usually as a predecessor of score reading)
  • score reading: listening to a recording of a piece while following along in the sheet music, from very basic Medieval music all the way through Contemporary atonal music. the score anthology we used - I still love this thing
  • reading about the historical and current uses of cadences, common and uncommon chord progressions, chord inversions, melodic ornamentation (non-chord tones), etc.

That all being said, I started out as a singer, and I often had to hum underneath my breath to be able to figure out the chords for a while before I began to "hear" and recognize the chords in my head on a subconscious level (and I definitely lose this part if I don't practice often).

Since you're already practicing solfege singing for your own theory practice, you can definitely use that to enhance the above "syllabus" by singing arpeggiations of each chord in solfege or even just "la la la" along with the chord analysis aural practice.


My unsolicited advice:

I have no idea about your situation/location, but you seem driven and motivated, which is an almost ubiquitous quality of students who get the most out of higher education.

I would really recommend you check out a college/university course in music theory. Community colleges in the US and public universities in many European countries have part-time options, night classes, and often financial support for people with special circumstances. Also, you don't have to pursue a degree to go to college classes. Another option: PhD/Masters students often charge very reasonable fees for music theory/aural theory tutoring.

I've been through the red-tape in academia in the US and Europe several times, so feel free to reach out if you decide it's something you want to look into and would like any mentorship through that process. Good luck!

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If your target is being able to identify chords and their sequences by ear (your first paragraph),then the simplest is to actually give each piece a key. So the 1-6-4-5- that you quote will have real meaning in your playing - C-Am-F-G, B♭-Gm-E♭-F, A- F&sharp-D-E, etc. That will also make your understanding of chords in relation to each other much stronger.

Doing it hypothetically, you could start with 'I'll pretend this is in key C', and move through all 12 keys, probably following the circle of fifths.

Then, when transcribing a song (something I do almost daily), all you'll need is the key - root chord - and away you go. You'll understand that C>Em is the same as G>Bm, is the same as A♭>Cm, etc.

The solfege system isn't really designed, or suited for what you're doing, and the RN analysis isn't too good unless you're writing it down. NNS works well for the written version, in fact that's what it's used for! Not that it will help in your case. I tend to write but use a mix of RN and NNS which suits me fine - it may do the job for you, but vocally, not a lot of help.

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  • You've wrote "the 1-6-4-5- that you quote will have real meaning in your playing - C-Am-F-G, B♭-Gm-E♭-F, A- F&sharp-D-E, etc." So what I actually need to say when I memorize a chord progression? should i say B♭-Gm-E♭-F ? Or should I say always C-Am-F-G no matter what the key is? Or should I say 1-6-4-5?
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 19:43
  • Yes, either but it makes sense to quote whatever you're playing in the appropriate key, otherwise it is nonsensical. Hypothetically it won't make much difference. I've worked many times where 1645 makes enough sense to just play.
    – Tim
    Feb 1 at 20:12
  • "but it makes sense to quote whatever you're playing in the appropriate key", But what do you mean by "quote", should I replace what I say in any new song? in the key of C Major say DO-FA-SO and in D Major say RE-SO-LA ?
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 20:29
  • @YtfuGjuf - that wouldn't work too well for chords with extensions. No, just as in my 1st paragraph, call out the actual names of the chords - if you know the key. If you don't, then invent one, and imagine the song is in that key.
    – Tim
    Feb 2 at 7:23
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First, recognize that what you're asking to do is unusual. It does seem worthwhile, but it's not something that's usually done, or at least taught. Singing as a part of ear training is usually focused on melodies, not chords. There's a simple reason for that: we only sing one note at a time!

But singing is a good way to internalize what's happening, so "singing chord progressions" seems like a worthwhile practice. Since it's not usually done, there's no standard approach and you can use whatever works for you. There are a few problems to solve, though.

First, which note out of the chord do you even sing? If you're in the key of C and faced with "C F C G," do you sing just that, a C, an F, a C, and a G? Is the F higher than the C, or in a lower octave? What if you're looking at not just letter names, but noted music? If you see

enter image description here

do you sing the bottom notes, which are the C F C G roots of the chords? But the top notes suggest a melody line; do you sing those? What about chord inversions? What do you sing for this:

enter image description here

In letter-name notation, that's "C F/A C/G G/D." If you sing the roots, you sometimes sing the bottom note, sometimes the middle, sometimes the top. If you just always sing the bottom notes then you're singing the bass line, but the pitch you sing doesn't match the note you say (or, if you use numbers, the location of that number within the scale).

So what should you do? Since you're asking about something that isn't commonly done, you can do whatever you want, and all I can say is what I would choose to do and why.

  • First, I would "sing chord progressions" only as a limited practice. I would do it to get a feel for the role of each chord within the tonality.
  • But at the same time and separately, I would practice sight-singing melodies in moveable do solfege. (This would have much the same effect; if I sing do fa sol I'm also hearing an implied I IV V.) And at the same time, I would do pencil-and-paper work to analyze examples in more detail than I can sing.
  • I would ignore chord inversions. Facing the example above, I would sing it just like the first one, just singing roots. This means I'm singing an "idealized" version, not necessarily exactly what's played. In fact, I would not try "chord singing" on very complex examples. If I want to focus on a bass line, maybe a cool walking bass line that results in lots of inverted chords, I'd treat it as a melody and probably use moveable do solfege for it. And I would leave it to the paper-and-pencil analysis to make note of voicings and inversions.
  • I would sing numbers. I'd choose this because you get the "moveable do" benefit of emphasizing tonal function (instead of the fixed-do equivalent of singing letter names), and I would not use solfege to avoid confusing this chord-singing with melody-singing.
  • I would not bother trying to sing anything that indicates chord quality (major, minor, diminished, etc.). Instead I would gradually internalize the sense that ii and vi are minor or III and IV are major. I suppose I could imagine, if one chord were altered from its normal quality, singing something like "minor threeee" out loud—but then again, I probably wouldn't use this approach for such a complex example.

Note, everything above is for what I would do to learn. I often do face the need to sing a chord progression out loud, most often when trying to teach it to someone else verbally. But then I most often use letter names since that's what they need most. "Ok, so the bridge goes F, C over E, D7 over F sharp, G."

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  • "Since you're asking about something that isn't commonly done" I thought that it's the most common method.... so what really is the common method that they teach in school? I'm autodidact .
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 20:02
  • "do pencil-and-paper work to analyze examples". my intention is to sing by ear, not theory. so how can this help me?
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 20:03
  • You said "First, I would 'sing chord progressions' only as a limited practice."... and later say "I would sing numbers ". how can i mix the two approaches? if I memorize DO FA SO, it becomes stuck into my head with the solfege syllables, and how can I later sing 1-4-5 ? dosn't the memory of the progression needs to be clear and defined verbally? By the way, I dont have problem playing melodies by ear, my goal is to learn how to play chords by ear.
    – Ynk
    Feb 1 at 20:09
  • @YtfuGjuf There are many approaches to "ear training" or "aural skills." Many of them include some singing; this is usually singing melodic material using solfege. They also usually include listening exercises, like identifying intervals or writing down short melodies that are played for you. It's usually studied alongside music theory. You'd need to study some theory just to know what you're talking about. You seem to care about getting a sense for how each chord "works" within the key, like the way V wants to lead to I. That's some basic music theory. And... Feb 1 at 22:25
  • @YtfuGjuf ... and the details like chord inversion or non-chordal tones wind up being useful too, because sometimes takes some analysis to even decide what chord we're looking at. In the key of C, if you have an C, an E, and a G in your chord, it's probably an F chord. BUT if the bottom note is the G, and the C and E quickly move to B and D, then maybe there never was a C chord, and it's just a G chord with a suspension. All of this is stuff you don't have to learn if the end goal is to hear a song and be able to play it. But it would help; you'd start to understand why certain chords Feb 1 at 22:31
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You only have one voice, so if it's busy singing solfege syllables, you'll have to use other parts of your body to externalize other aspects of the music.

Part 1: You're (mostly) already doing that

Here's the thing about chord functions: That's what solfege is. One of the strengths of movable Do is that (in a major key) Do is always the tonic and So is always the dominant. So if you learn to think of "Re" as shorthand for "subdominant", you're already communicating that information as efficiently as possible, in one syllable.

Similarly, if major keys are centered around Do and minor keys are centered around La, you can always,* irrespective of mode, expect that the chords based on Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Ti are major, minor, minor*, major, major, minor, and diminished respectively. That's just how scales work.

If you're willing to put in a little bit of memorization, you'll find the information you need is already there—as long as the music you're singing is diatonic. So the most important thing to physically drill is when it deviates from that framework.


*Yeah, I'm pretending harmonic minor doesn't exist for simplicity, but it's easy to add back in once you get the idea.

Part 2: How to do it anyway

Non-diatonic functional analysis gets complicated (and subjective, and beyond my knowledge set) fast. Let's focus on chord quality, which is a lot more straightforward.

With only a few things to indicate (major, minor, augmented, diminished, and a neutral default when no indication is needed), the options are numerous. Downturned fist, upturned fist, downturned palm, upturned palm, relaxed hand? That's what springs to mind, but you'll know best after you workshop it.

One variable is how accustomed you are to a particular system of solfege hand signs, and how much it bothers you if they overlap. Speaking of those, if you really want a physical indicator of harmonic function, you could do the solfege sign with the other hand only when the function is known, strengthening the mental connection, or invent a similar system that doesn't care whether the key is major or minor.

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  • So would you recommend using this method of memorizing progressions of chords by solfege syllables? Can you elaborate more about how should I do it practically? thanks you!
    – Ynk
    Feb 6 at 17:27
  • @Ynk Can you clarify what you're asking? Feb 7 at 0:11
  • I want to focus on diatonic chords. as I have said in the question, how should I memorize the progression I-vi-IV-V? the LA is LA Minor . should I sing DO-LA-FA-SO ? or maybe DO-LA minor-FA-SO ? How should I distinguish major chord from minor?
    – Ynk
    Feb 7 at 16:24
  • @Ynk Right. Diatonic Do, Fa, and So-based chords are always major, and La, Re, and Mi-based chords are always minor (and Ti is diminished). This stays true for minor keys as long as you consider La the root, rather than keeping Do as the root and using chromatic solfege for flat notes. Feb 7 at 22:17
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    @AndyBonner I've been assuming the opposite. Feb 10 at 21:25

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