So i have been playing rhythm for several years and started learning the music theory few weeks back.

I know for instance if a song is in the key of G, there's going to be C and D in most of the cases as C and D are iv and v chords in the key of G.

But my problem is, say the song is something that i know (and played) already, but if i'm given only the chords used in the song without when that particular chord is played, i can't play it on the fly. If i'm given time i can probably figure out when to play this chord and etc but not on the fly confidently.

So how do I overcome this? Someone told me it just comes with the practice and try playing the songs that you know over and over again see why a particular chord doesn't fit in there and then try with a different chord and likewise. I have also seen videos saying there are common chord patterns, for ex after iv -> v or ii->iii->v->i (i just made up these patterns). So what should i do to learn when to play a particular chord in a song?

2 Answers 2


You've relied too much on doing what the sheet tells you! You need to start using your ears a lot more! Let's take a three chord wonder, of which there must be tens of thousands, not all the same, obviously.

You need to play along to the first chord - we'll call that I, generally the first one in a song, to establish a 'home' feel. Whilst playing, listen to where the melody is going. At some point, often at the beginning of a new line, new sentence/phrase sung,or bar, it will feel like the chord you're on now isn't going to fit the next part. Now, in a three chord song, that gives you a 50:50. It'll either be IV or V. That's where the experience of playing, and being able to listen, not just hear, comes in. O.k., you make the choice and it's the wrong one! Now you know what the right one is!

Stay on that till you feel the next change coming up. Still 50:50! If you eventually found the right first change was to IV, then the next change has to be either V, or back to I. If it feels like a small step, chances are it's to V, or maybe it feels like a bigger step - back to I. If so, it should feel like you're back home, albeit for a short time.

Start with things you haven't played before from sheets, maybe Happy B'day, Silent Night, etc. Choose a key, sing along, or get buddy to, slowly, and stop just as you get to where you feel the change coming. 50:50 isn't a bad bet, but eventually you'll start thinking 'no, it won't be the previous chord again, so it's moving on'. Or not.

When you get better at that, start adding the ii, iii and vi (the minors - we write them using small R.N.). Again, the choices aren't huge. If you're on a major, and it feels like the next won't be - it's 33%. Still good odds!

At the same time as all this, try to familiarise yourself with how each change feels. Maybe I>IV feels like it's going up, while I>V goes down. You'll have to decide on that yourself. It's a bit like trying to describe what an orange tastes like!

EDIT - When you get onto barre chords on guitar, whoich will be necessary in several keys, the I, IV and V are more obvious. Using E and A shapes, the I is an E shape on x fret, IV an A shape on the same x fret, while V is an A shape on x+2 fret. No need even to be thinking what the chords are called - that's academic in this situation. That's just one simple way to think of what comes next, within a two fret range.

  • Thanks so much for the detailed reply. This sounds like a good ex to practice i'll give this a shot!
    – samsamara
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 0:27

An exercise that could help:

Try playing something really simple, eg. Wild Thing (I / IV / V / IV /)

Play it in all 12 keys. If you need to write out the chords in all twelve keys and read them, then do that.

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