Beginners Ear Training (Part 1)

Time for some ear training. Perhaps one of the questions I get asked most by my students is how to hear chords and know whether it’s a tonic, dominant, or subdominant function, etc. This ability is crucial for one to play songs by ear.

From years of teaching, I find that most of the students who had this problem, is caused by the ear not knowing which part of the music to focus on, and which part to grab. Some students might be listening to the melody to try to identify the progressions, while some might even be confused as to when or where the chord changes exactly, not knowing that some notes are just accompaniment patterns constructed from the basic chords.

If you are one of them, here is something to help you out, starting from the very very basic.
Here is an audio clip I’ve prepared, with me playing short phrases of music in different styles, and pausing everytime before moving on to the next.

For each short phrase, I will end on either the Tonic (Chord 1) , or the Dominant ( Chord 5). Your job is to try and guess which one is it before I reveal the answer.


If you are having trouble with your ears not knowing what to listen to actually, here’s a few tips:

1) Remember the tonic chord gives the music and ending feeling, while the dominant chord is the complete opposite, leaving the music hanging, as if waiting for an ending. So ask yourself everytime, does the music sound like it has ended, or does it still feel hanging?

2) If you find not much difficulty identifying the chords using the method from the previous point, try focus on the bass note ( lowest note) on each ending chord, and sing it out loud everytime. To make it easier for you, I’ve emphasized them purposely on most of my playing. This will give your ear a better training.

So just repeat the exercise listening to the clip as many times as you want, until you feel you can get the answer with relative ease everytime. Carry on to Part 2 and Part 3 for more exercises.

Beginners Ear Training (Part 2)

Beginners Ear Training (Part 3)
Have fun and enjoy…:)


  • KCLau

    Reply Reply August 9, 2007

    this is a great start to train our ear. I and V is definitely the easiest to identify.

  • Dario

    Reply Reply November 26, 2012

    None of the links on this website work

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