• Question: How do I find the chord progressions in songs?

    in Chords & Progressions

    Question posted to blogquestion@hearandplay.com by Deborah Teel:


    Thank you Jermaine. Of course if you can answer the question, and I’m sure you can, please feel free. The question is “how do I identify the chord progressions in any song?” I learned how to play “the organ” very differently, but hearandplay has helped me tremendously. The number system has just opened a whole new world of playing for me. However, I still struggle sometimes in identifying the chord progressions especially with all the other instruments layered on top of the progression. Once I view the sessions in GMTC or watch one of the DVDs it becomes so simple, but trying to do it on my own sometimes is challenging. Any assistance you can provide is appreciated.

    By the way, I had no clue there was so much footage in the GMTC. There’s sooooo much material there. I’m proud to be a gold member and these will not only me, but everyone for a lifetime. Thank you.


    My Response

    Hi Deboarah,

    That is a very good question.

    And off the top of my head, here are a number of things you can do to get good at finding the chord progressions at work in any song.

    1) Change your approach from following the piano to following the bass.

    You would think the piano player is what you’re listening for (and once you get good at doing this, you can), but it’s far more easier to figure out what the bass player is doing.

    2) Find the Key

    I know I put “follow the bass” as #1 but I did that because it’s probably the most important thing you can know about determining chord progressions (many people follow the piano when most of the time, you can hardly hear the piano).

    I would start by determining the key to the song. If you’re not good at this yet, I recommend watchin this 30-minute video I did on the topic: https://www.hearandplay.com/main/video-how-to-find-the-key-of-any-song

    You see, once you find the key, it narrows down your options and makes following the bass much easier.

    So instead of trying to “randmomly” pick out bass notes with no systematic process, now you’re focusing on a particular key.

    3) Know what tones are more important.

    Let’s face it…

    Not all tones are created equal in a particular key.

    (Unlike society, every tone gets their time to shine, though, depending on what key you’re in.)

    For example, here’s the C major scale:

    C D E F G A B C

    Of course, I like to number it right away. Thinking of scales as “numbers” is probably one of the most important skills you can learn when it comes to picking out chord progressions.


    Now, in this key, 3 of these tones are going to be super special. Everything will move “towards” them usually.

    They are the 1st tone, the 4th tone, and the 5th tone.

    If you’ve heard the words “primary chords,” well, they are built off these tones.

    Which makes everything else “secondary chords” or tones.

    So if you’re:

    1) Following the bass note (lowest note)
    2) Know the key you’re in
    3) Know what tones of that key are “primary” and what tones are “secondary” (…meaning they serve as a way to get you to primary chords)

    …you’re almost there.

    4) Start remembering and recognizing patterns.

    Just like “success” leaves traces, songs do too.

    As you learn more and more songs, pay attention to the patterns that are reoccurring. THEY WILL OCCUR AGAIN IN ANOTHER SONG.

    All songs follow recognizable patterns.

    And since you’re a gold member of the Gospel Music Training Center, you have front row access to the patterns. All you have to do is “zoom out” and stop seeing these songs as separate entities, but rather all connected to the same patterns.

    Like the California goldrush (which I know little about because I didn’t pay that much attention in history class… sadly), everyone rushed here to get them a piece of it and returned to their separate homes. Songs pull from the same “goldrush” and fool you by making you think they are special. All the patterns are the same (GospelKeys 202 reveals many of the common gospel patterns. Check out the free digital version of it in the bonus area).

    I hope this talk helps!

    Take care.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 36 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Laney Porter

    hi jermaine
    please suggest a youtube link so i can view a gospel song consisting of all five parts as explained in the gospel keys three hundred exploring praise songs and charismatic styles> many thanks> lp


    2 GospelSong

    Great information! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.


    3 paul

    Hi. bro praise the lord i am paul form bangalore i need a help i lesson many gospel song but most of the song. how to identify the chords so i am request to u please help me .jesus name will be Glory five


    4 Ndalama


    I must appreciate what I found today as the begginer. I hope I am going to learn more things as church music leader.




    5 Ndalama

    Hi, Sir

    I would like to chat with other musicians and music learners who are participating in this program. I just want to other musicians with whom I can share experience.



    6 Chevonne Reynolds

    Hi Jermaine!! Long time no see..LOL!! Once again you have out-done yourself. I am so thankful for you and your willingness to share with us. God bless you


    7 jessie chaney

    Thank you for the many things I have learned through your website and dvd courses that I ordered form you. How ever I have a question that I am sure you can answer. Is there a method for learning how to fill in your bass notes on fast and slower songs. I hear other musicians playing songs and there bass is more full than mine. Can you help me jazz up my bass?


    8 Peter

    Hi Jermaine.

    Could you say if you show the correct/optional fingerings for chords and chord inversions in your keyboard courses?



    9 Ndifreke


    I think these information was very useful at least it i were to explain to some other person.


    10 samuel okyere

    thanx for encouraging my faith


    11 ankit

    what are other scales like pentatonic,enharmonic,phryigian etc. and where are they really used?


    12 Peter

    A pentatonic scale is a scale which has 5 notes compared,for example, to a major scale which has 7 notes (8 if you include the octave note which is the same as the first note).
    Pentatonic scales are often used in folk music and pop music and the blues. It gives a clear uncomplicated sound.
    Enharmonic is not a type of scale. it just means a scale or a note which sounds exactly the same as one with a different name. For example Cflat is enharmonic with B. – they are the same note (or scale) with different names. To be very exact about it, although they sound the same they are actually different scales, because they would be used in different tonalities (key centres). Try it out on a piano keyboard and think about it. Dont worry if it isn’t clear straight away.



    13 Ankit

    ok,got that now,thank you
    i have one more question if u can help.
    i wanted to know that their are so many scales major,minor and greek one’s and others also so how do we choose which scale to use to make a song.i mean how do we know that we should choose this scale and moreover this key out of 12 keys to start with a song?someone told me to choose scales based on the mood,but i was wondering how mood can determine which scale to choose from.


    14 Peter

    I can only give you my own opinion on this, which is not to get too concerned about what scales to use.
    If you are talking about improvisation, you could try this for an idea.
    Practise every major scale up to the 5th (e.g. CDEFG GFEDC) so that you can play it with total freedom.
    Do this in every key, always practising in the cycle of 4ths (i.e. C scale, F scale, Bflat scale etc.) do this until it is second nature.
    From the improvising perspective, look at the chord sequence of the tune, and play through it playing only the 3rd of each chord, whilst at the same time thinking of the triad of each chord (1-3-5).
    Practise until you can play the 3rd of each chord instantly and in a relaxed way. try different ways of phrasing single 3rds and grouped 3rds. Keep it relaxed and intuitive.
    Eventually, if you trust your ear, you will start to hear other notes such as the 5th 6th 11th etc. start adding them, but think mainly of the 3rd. The 3rd will never let you down. Be patient. Dont worry about the name of the scale. when you improvise you are constantly moving between different scales and modes of scales. It is the musical equivalent of looking into the constantly changing patterns in a kaleidoscope.


    15 Ankit

    ok,thanks for the reply.
    it was really helpful.


    16 Ankit

    ok,thanks for the reply.
    i was really looking for improvisation techniques like this..!


    17 Peter

    By the way, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention the 7th (of the chord).
    Even though, as you probably know, nearly all the chords used in jazz are 7th chords (e.g. minor 7th, major 7th etc.)
    The reason for this is that the 7th of the chord is extremely powerful in it’s effect, to the extent that it can take over control of what you are playing and force it down a specific route(e.g. bebop) which you might not actually wont. – for example if you play mainly 7th chords on pop music it will sound horrible.
    So, the bottome line is use 7ths after you are very experienced, and actually want a 7th at that point in the music. – that is an advanced level of ability to be able to do that, rather than what most people do, which is use 7ths all the time. (that is one reason why most non-musicians dont like jazz they dont like the constant clash of all those 7ths!
    Think 3rds and triads and notes 1 to 5 – the rest will gradually come.
    Treat the 7th as if it is dynamite – you have to be very careful when you use it.


    18 Ankit

    yeah i tried chord substitutions in the beginning after i learnt about maj and min triads but just got lost with so many chord forms out there.do people really use these 9th’s,11th’s and complicated looking like i just saw somewhere on the internet a guy using F#9#5 or Ab9sus?


    19 Peter

    You should stop even thinking about all those chord substitions and extensions.
    The bottom line is that it wont make your playing sound any better.
    What will make you sound better is having absolute mastery of where the 3rd is in any chord.
    Practise on tunes with chords I-VI-II-V (1-6-2-5) For example, Long Ago And Far Away. Buy the Teddy Wilson CD with that tune on it. Listen to that simple clear beautiful introduction, and the solo which keeps strongly within the key centre/tonality and is therefore very lyrical. That’s what its’s all about. Listen to Charles Trenet singing “La Mer”. Play along to the records. Keeping it simple will make it stong and clear and lyrical.
    By the way, playing simply is much harder than playing with lots of complicated chords and lots of fast runs. Listen to Count Basie playing the piano- not many musicians have the ability to play so simply. Listen to Bix Beiderbecke playing “Singin the Blues” Listen over and over again. Dont worry if you dont understand it all immediately. It’s a lifetime study.


    20 josée

    I read attentively all the comments by Peter. It reminded me of Jermaine’s letter “how th piano made me popular in school”.Both of you are insisting about simplicity! That encourages me a lot,because ,due to a long illness that put my brain in a chronical mist,I ‘ve felt unable to digest all the complexities I studied in the 300 p course,but I feel able to reach more easiness in playing the piano and use the basic triads,even if it will take several months more of practising.”La mer” has lulled my childhood! now,I am going to listen to it with another ear and try to apply your advice,then I’ll look for the other titles in english.
    Thanks for Jermaine for all these wonderful and warmful pages and thanks to all the people who add their experience and share their joy of music!


    21 Ankit

    ok,thanks i think i should keep it simple at first and then move to higher degrees later.
    thanks alot.


    22 Donvitty

    Um,first of all,just wanna say God bless u 4 all u re doing to ma piano playing.its gotten so much better since i started viewing the site!cud u give me some advice on use of diatones in ma playing/gospel music&on effective use of gospel licks&scalez!GOD BLESS.DONVITTY 4rm nigeria!


    23 Jermaine Griggs

    Thanks for comment.

    Here’s a quick lesson covering ditones but I’ll remember to do some more articles on it in the future:



    24 belinda

    I am learning so much Thank you Jermine


    25 Rollybest

    i realy appreciate ur lectures,buh i want to knw how to improvise,when to provise..and d meanin of primary and secondary scale…i was not thought this….


    26 Fitzroy Sam

    Hi Jermaine,
    I’ve not hibernated. You may be happy to know i have initiated the founding of a music institute at our church. This is to ensure that there is always a cadre of musicians to draw from while others are moving on to so-called “greener pastures”.

    for His glory,


    27 Graphic Design London

    I pondered leaving this trackback excellent option


    28 Rohan Chung

    Hi Jermie,

    How can one hear a song for the first time and play it properly. What is that secret. and I mean not an easy 1 4 5 or 1 6 4 5 etc song?



    29 Oriokot

    am learning, all yea don’t stop. thanks


    30 David Andrew Fyfe

    C=1 = I
    D=2 = ii
    E=3 = iii
    F=4 = IV
    G=5 = V
    A=6 = vi

    If you add Roman numerals with any key you play you can easily
    transpose to any key needed. It is the way of prof Lead sheets.


    31 mitchel

    pls organise bass guitar tutorials… hw wondaful it wuld b to learn frm dis grt site..


    32 David Brakes

    This was actually a real difficulty for me, but I thank God for I overcame it.


    33 Bright O. Man GospelKeyz

    ooowwww….i finished reading the articles and jumped into the articles..believe me i saw alot of amazing comments from PETER and the rest…God bless you Jermaine and peter…i enjoyed and learnt alot from this very article!…


    34 zino



    35 obiscolobo

    I strongly believe that to get the chord progression of any song is to do it by ear, firstly you have to really practice series of popular chord progressions like 1451, 1 6 4 5, e.t.c and many more.Then the next step is to begin to practice simple songs with these progressions, as you practice the songs, sing the chord progrssion to your own hearing. Before you know it, you would begin to automatically derive the chord progression of songs by yourself. Here are some popular chord progressions of nigerian songs you can start with: http://www.michaelphils.com/p/blog-page_84.html


    36 Dave



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