Chord Tones And How To Learn To Hear Them

Chord tones are the essential tones in any chord that must be emphasized during your melodic solos, in order to outline the harmonic structure of the song.

If you can hear chord tones effortlessly, your ability to improvise over any set of chord changes magnifies… and you won’t be relying on the rhythm section to play those chord changes for you in order to sound good!

Harness the advantage of hearing chord tones by practicing with these 72 ear training mp3 tracks.

What Are The Chord Tones?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to start learning how to hear chord tones is to first understand where these chord tones were derived from, then listen to chords with very basic voicings, and focus on hearing these chord tones, in the order of: root note => top note.

How These Chord Tones Are Derived?

A basic chord could be a C Major 7 chord. The chord tones that are played in this chord are C, E, G, B.

These notes were derived from a C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. If you were to play every other note in the scale, you get the chord that belongs to that scale.

If you “extend” the scale to be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D… etc, and continue to play every other note in that same scale, you’ll get the “extensions” that belong to that scale. ie: the 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths.

What you’ll notice is that the notes C, E, G, B in a C Major 7 chord are the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the C Major scale.

Although the chord tones 1 and 5 are technically chord tones, you will find that they do not express the unique quality of a chord. However, the chord tones 3 and 7 do express the uniqueness of a chord and tend to be the strongest chord tones to emphasize in a melodic solo.

Interestingly enough, the chord “extensions,” especially when altered (lowered or raised), tend to produce more interesting note choices, but best work well when resolving to essential chord tones, such as the 3 and 7.

So, first focus on hearing your basic chords at all times. The better you are at hearing these tones, the better you will be when it comes to resolving any “outside” note you play.

How To Hear Chord Tones?

I came across this ear training website that provides 72 mp3 tracks of basic chords that can be used to practice hearing your chord tones. Not every chord and voicing imaginable is there, but its a good start.

Once you download these mp3 tracks, you can practice singing the chord tones that you are hearing anywhere.

Add these to your collection of ear training mp3 tracks and turn your ipod into the ultimate portable ear training device.

The website is: http://www.playingthechanges.com/

(Update on 12/13/2013: The mp3 tracks on this website sustain chords for you to hear. I’ve put together a set of 57 ear training mp3 tracks that each play a chord, then outlines the chord for you to hear each individual note that is being sounded in that chord. This is helpful for beginners that may not be sure if they are hearing the correct notes. These tracks can be found here: http://www.eartrainanywhere.com/downloads/hear-notes-in-chords-ear-training-mp3s/)

Suggested Way To Practice Hearing Chord Tones

  1. Play the chord
  2. Hear the root note in your mind (this is the 1 chord tone). Hear it loudly. This note is the note that has a feeling of finality. It doesn’t feel like going anywhere. For example: if you sing a Db over a C Major 7 chord, that note will feel like moving downward, a half-step, and resolve to a note C. If you sing a note C over a C Major 7 chord, that note C will not feel like going anywhere.
  3. Sing the root note.
  4. Hear the 3rd of the chord in your mind. Hear it loudly.
  5. Sing the 3rd.
  6. Hear the 5th of the chord in your mind. Hear it loudly.
  7. Sing the 5th.
  8. Hear the 7th of the chord in your mind. Hear it loudly.
  9. Sing the 7th.
  10. Now listen to the same chord again. You will notice that it may not be voiced in the exact order of 1, 3, 5, and 7.
  11. Hear the lowest note being played. Hear that note loudly.
  12. Sing that note.
  13. Determine what note is being played at the bottom. Is it the root note, the 3rd, the 5th, or the 7th?
  14. Hear the next lowest note being played. Hear that note loudly.
  15. Sing that note.
  16. Determine what note is being played at the bottom. Is it the root note, the 3rd, the 5th, or the 7th?
  17. Continue until you are hearing the top note being played. Hear that note loudly.
  18. Sing that note.
  19. Determine what note is being played at the bottom. Is it the root note, the 3rd, the 5th, or the 7th?