UD#6 Lost in Progressions? (Hearing Chord Patterns)

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UD #6 Lost in Progressions?

from Ukulele in the Dark w/Guido Heistek

A student came up to me and asked me this question:


“I can hear the chords changing but I loose track of where I am in the progression. I can’t tell where the progression begins and ends and I get all confused. How can I work on that?”

We had been working on a simple song in class. The tune was “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” by Bob Dylan. It has a repetitive chord progression that goes like this:


G               Am            C                G
1  2  3  4    1  2  3  4    1  2  3  4    1  2  3  4


This pattern repeats through the whole song. One bar or 4 beats per chord.


In this week’s newsletter I am going to share some strategies for learning and practicing chord progressions. We will work with “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”


Identifying the “TOP”


The “TOP” of the progression is the beginning of the progression. In today’s song it’s the first G chord. It can be a little confusing because this chord progression begins and ends with the same chord. So being able to identify the TOP of the progression is crucial to not getting lost.


Here I’ve recorded few minutes of me strumming the chords to “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”:


•I play along with a metronome that is marking the beats.

•For the first while I count 2, 3, 4 TOP! To show you where the TOP is.

•Then I just say TOP. Without counting down.

•Then I leave you to identify the TOP on your own.




1. Listen through once without doing anything. Just listen.
2. Second time try to say TOP along with me.
3. Now try clapping once on each chord change and then saying TOP when the TOP comes along. Like this:


G                       Am                     C                       G
CLAP 2  3  4    CLAP  2  3  4    CLAP  2  3  4    CLAP  2  3  4


IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t worry too much about counting! Just try to get a feel for where the chords change and for where the TOP is.




OK! Now let’s get out our ukes. At first NO STRUMMING! I find that strumming too early is the number 1 reason students don’t learn a progression and need to rely on reading it. Do less at first so you can listen and attend to the song. Here are a couple of suggestion for playing along with the recording without strumming.


1. Play root notes only. Root notes are the notes that give a chord it’s name. They are the most important note from each chord. That’s why the bass player in the band is usually playing root notes. They are the foundation. You can sketch a chord progression by playing root notes only. It’s a lot easier than playing the actual chords. In this song the root notes can be played with all open strings. Play them once each per chord like this:



Practice the progression that way a few times and then play along with the recording.

2. Once you’ve worked with the root notes for a while. Try strumming one chord per bar like this:



3. Finally add any simple strum that you want. More on strumming next week!


Once you are done working with the recording have fun playing along with the the Byrds version of the song on Youtube:




Also if you need more practice first, I’ve recorded the chords with a simple whistled melody that you can play along with.



OK! I hope that helps you with staying oriented in chord progressions. See you next week.



P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!


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