Many of my students come to me believing that playing by ear is impossible. Especially choosing chords by ear. It seems utterly magical to them that someone could just know which chord to use and when to change chords without looking at printed music.
But, choosing chords by ear is something that anyone can do. Some people get so good at it that they can actually guess the chords in a song as they are playing it! But let’s slow things down and take it one step at a time.
Here is a game to help you experience what it is like to choose chords by ear. Below you will see a chart of Silent Night with the melody written in tab and standard notation. The chords have been omitted. Your job is to fill in the correct chords by feel. You can choose from three chords C, F, or G7. (I, IV and V7 in the key of C – more on I, IV, V7 later)
BEFORE YOU START MAKE SURE YOUR UKE IS IN TUNE!
1. Learn to sing the melody in the correct key. This is very important! Use the tablature or music notation to help you with this.
2. Sing the first two bars a few times. Try a C, F or G7 chord along with the melody you are singing.
3. Which one fits? C? That’s right.The first chord is C. It just feel right doesn’t it? Now decide which chord you will try in the next bracket in the fifth bar. Sing and strum the song from the beginning playing and test to see what chord sounds best in the 5th bar. How did it go? If it didn’t sound right repeat the experiment again with a different chord in bar 5. Which chord fits?
Once you’ve done this exercise on paper. Try to do it off the page. Sing Silent Night and see if you can place the right chords in the right spot by feel. You may find that with a little practice you will be singing and playing Silent Night with no sheet music. Yeehaw!
Take a song sheet that you have been working on. Print out a lyrics only version, double spaced. List the chords used in the song at the top of the page. Mark the place in the lyric where each new chord occurs. Then put away the original song sheet and see if you can use your ears to tell you which chords to use.
Start with something simple, not too many chords. Have fun with it!
All the best,