I've been playing bass for almost 15 years, I have a great memory to remember songs, I can remember songs that I learned years ago and still play them quite accurately.

Now I got myself a guitar(couple of months ago) and somehow I can't remember the song's chords without having to look for them while playing it. With the chords I can play just fine, without it I can barely remember one or two songs that are more catchy;

I wonder, why it's so hard for me to remember songs for the guitar?

Some possible answers is that for the bass the song is more like patterns and riffs rather than chords, so it's more unique and after you the get first notes it's easy to get the other because of muscle memory, while in the guitar I'm playing mostly pop-rock (Beatles, Oasis,...) songs with very common chords (majors, minors and 7ths), which get quite repetitive, I was baffled by the amount of songs that use only G, C, D, Em.

I know this isn't just because I'm new to playing guitar, because a while back I started playing violin and it was as easy to remember as bass songs, most of the time didn't even used the music score, I just played by memory.

So, why do you think it might be hard for me to remember chords in the guitar? Have you had this experience? And above all, how can I improve?


Thanks everyone for the answers, it was hard too chose a answer because all of you gave fine ideas. I choose @muffin answers because it's a method that I already know that works, I just haven't thought using it with chords.

  • 1
    Is it the specific chords of the song you don't remember or the composition of the chord on the guitar?
    – Raphael
    Nov 17, 2014 at 15:02
  • 1
    I don't remember what chords a songs uses and in which order they are played, I don't have problems remembering the chords finger position. Looks like every songs use the same chords and because of that they all get mixed up. Nov 17, 2014 at 15:05

4 Answers 4


I've been playing guitar for about 7 years now and I also had difficulties with memorizing chord patterns in the beginning.

What I discovered after a while is, that every song has his own movement. When playing a chord, you have to imagine your hand as a single "position" on the guitar neck.

I will use the famous chord progression of "Wonderwall" by Oasis:


Since you know how to play chords it shouldn't be a problem to play it. Now, without a sheet in front of you, imagine your hand on the neck playing an E chord.

Now, your hand travels the way up to the 3rd fret to play the G chord, right for the D chord down playing the A chord and all the way left to start at the E chord again. If you imagine these movements as a picture, your hand moves in a circle: up, right, down, left

By picturing such movements, it could be very easy to remember a chord progression. It works on any kind of progression. as well as for lines (I learnt basslines this way), if you get lost on the neck.

  • 1
    Cool concept, I have used this some times while playing bass for solos that where too long to remember note-by-note, I imagined diagrams of shapes, triangles, squares, diagonals and so on and try to match them while playing, it was easy to do, but hard to explain to anyone, I understand what you are saying, I'll try to apply in the future. Nov 19, 2014 at 3:41

If I understand correctly, you find it easy to remember individual melodic lines (monophony), but have trouble remembering chord progressions (polyphony).

I'm going to guess that this problem is related to ear training. You can mentally "hear" a monophonic line, and even mentally "sing" it, which allows you to remember intuitively how it goes. You can then correlate that upward or downward melodic motion into the proper actions on the fretboard. Pitch is a very linear, one-dimensional space.

But I'm guessing that you have no way to relate a chord symbol to what you hear -- especially since you can't sing a chord progression; it's just an abstract concept. If this is the problem, I'd focus on training your ear to recognize chords, and the relationships between chords. This will allow you to anticipate the next chord in your mind, without having to recall a possibly meaningless symbol.

  • That may be true, in the Bass I'm not very skilled in learning by ear(I leave it as least resort) but I can get quite close to the actual song; while in the guitar with just one or two chords takes quite while for me to 'get it' by ear, I have to play every chord I know until I find it. Nov 19, 2014 at 3:34

Caleb Hines' answer is very spot on. It all comes down to ear training. You're also gonna have to identify chords by ear i.e., know when a chord is a minor, a major, and any other voicings.

I say this because it's going to be useful in identifying whether a specific chord is a 'I' or a 'II' etc in relation to the song. Interestingly, in my experience I came to know how to hear chord progressions by listening to the 'bass-line' part they leave (if that makes sense). So maybe that would work with you since you're an experienced bassist already.

Basically, I listen to the bass notes of the chord, and came to know for example, in a G major scale, an E minor chord is the vi chord. So again, it all comes down to practice, and getting used to hearing chords. More information about this in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_progression

When my ears got used to that, I came to memorize songs not by their specific chords, but their chord progressions. I see the verse chords in 'Yesterday' not as 'F Em7 A7 Dm etc' but as I VII III vi etc.

  • Great addendum to my answer, especially about recognizing chords on scale degrees by listening to bass notes. I chose not to go into a lot of detail on how to actually perform ear training (since there are other answers on here that discuss that), and tried to focus more on just identifying the problem. Nov 18, 2014 at 7:55
  • I've never got myself into studying music theory, I could be a much better player if did, I'm more of a play and learn while playing type of person. Anyway, I'll dig through what you said and see if I can get any result. Thanks for the input. Nov 19, 2014 at 3:38

Something which may help is training the process of memorising the chord progressions, for instance you play along with the sheet music or chord chart a few times for just the verse and then look away from the chords and play from memory. Repeat this with each part of the song (verse, chorus bridge etc) Wait a few minutes and then try again. By repeating this process with larger time intervals between reading and remembering you eventually widen the gap enough that you no longer need to read the chords. Then leave the song for a day and come back to it. Leave it for a couple of days and come back to it etc.

When I was first learning I would also write down the chord progression on a piece of paper and then write how many times it was repeated before the next section. For instance:

Verse: C - Am - Em - F (x4)

Chorus: F - G - Am - Em (x2)

Verse: C - Am - Em - F (x4)

This way it is broken down into easier chunks instead of seeing a whole verse of lyrics with chords over the top which may not have any particular visual structure.

Also from what you said it sounds like you may be trying to learn quite a few songs at once (as you said many songs have the same chords). If so drop back to learning just one song or maybe two max at a time so that you have more mental focus on remembering each chord progression.

  • Thanks for the input, but this method(writing many times it was repeated) I find the difficult to achieve results, mostly because tabs already look like this, the way I see, this could be any song that I have already learned, it's hard for me to link this with the actual song. For the first method(play with and without the sheet) I can get some songs, but once I start to add more songs, they start to get mixed. Maybe I'm trying to learn too many songs at once, but with the bass I can learn 4 songs in a day and still remember them in the next day, while with the guitar I can get just 2 at most. Nov 19, 2014 at 3:48

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