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Predicting chord changes

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by Larry F, May 7, 2013.

  1. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    How many of you can play chords to a song that you've never heard before? What kind of music can you do that with, and what kind of music is difficult?

    I would offer that someone who can do this well knows theory well, regardless of whether or not he/she knows the names, spellings, and functions of the chords. Is anyone here in that category, of being able to predict chord changes, but not being adept at chord spelling and chord/key relationships?

    There are a couple of factors at play, of course. For example, some songs have standard 12-bar blues and other types of chord changes. Also, playing through the song once might be dicier at first, but once the progression as cycled through, then you are just repeating what you have just heard. But some songs have non-standard progressions and some people can play them the first time through.

    I think someone has written a book of common rhythmic patterns for melodies, but is there anything like that for chords? There certainly should be.
     
  2. dsutton24

    dsutton24 Poster Extraordinaire

    Dec 29, 2010
    Illinois
    I can do this for genres that I've played for years, Folk, Rock and the like. I don't think it's a matter of having learned theory by accident or osmosis, I think it's more a matter of recognizing familiar passages and adapting. A lot of popular music is pretty derrivitive to begin with.

    I have no doubt that most of us learn more theory by accident than we realize, but I think it's more a matter of feel than intellect.
     
  3. TwangBilly

    TwangBilly Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2011
    West Virginia, U.S.
    Sometimes I can. I play gospel, hymns, bluegrass and country style stuff predominately.
    That stuff is usually not hard for someone who has been around it all their life like I have. Usually pretty simple and predictable progressions.
    Admittedly I don't know theory very well, I play mostly by ear. I need to work on theory badly!
    I want to gain a thorough understanding of the Nashville numbers system, that would enable me to do more of what I do better. Also scales.
    I've been so caught up in gear and technique for so long I've neglected theory, not good.
     
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  5. RCinMempho

    RCinMempho Tele-Afflicted

    Jul 8, 2003
    Maryville, TN
    This can be easy to impossible depending on the song - and on the bass player.

    A good bass player is better than a chord chart.
     
  6. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Learn 20 jazz standards,
    two Steely Dan tunes and
    a handful of 70s hard rock (Zep, Sabbath). VERY LITTLE will surprise you.

    I'm being quite sincere.
     
  7. TwangBilly

    TwangBilly Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2011
    West Virginia, U.S.
    A good bass player is better than a chord chart.[/QUOTE]

    Agreed! I can't hardly do what I do without a good solid bass player.
     
  8. slowpinky

    slowpinky Tele-Afflicted

    I remember sounding bad -really bad.(I sound a bit better now) - I dont remember any shortcuts, I played bad note choices knowing full well that I was really not hearing it. It was all about the tonicisation into different keys - actually acknowledging the Db major tonality in Blue Bossa for instance. I could fudge my way through one tonal centre, but when it changed, sometimes suddenly - it went pear -shaped.
    I didnt realise it at the time but immersing in Wes Montgomery,Joe Pass and others, I kept working out the phrases they played when the key centres changed- it nearly always involved the melodic outline of a dominant to tonic - or a half cadence like a ii V. I've been collecting these and messing with them ever since.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2013
  9. DSharp

    DSharp Tele-Meister

    437
    Apr 26, 2003
    Southern Indiana

    I guess it all depends upon how you define “theory.” To my mind, the essence of knowing theory is being able to talk about music in theoretical terms. I know good musicians who don’t know theory from theology. They have great ears; they make great music. And I play with them every chance I get. But I wouldn’t say they know theory well.
     
  10. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Which is I think what Larry just said ...
    Most of us here agree that you don't have to know what it's called - you just have to be to able to do it - then repeat it, later. Or maybe 'show' somebody how to do it.
     
  11. DSharp

    DSharp Tele-Meister

    437
    Apr 26, 2003
    Southern Indiana

    So my question then is: What is the difference between someone who knows theory and someone who plays by ear?
     
  12. trilby

    trilby TDPRI Member

    92
    Jun 29, 2012
    Toronto
    I tend to do this very often. I often hit local jams, and while I will occasionally know some of their repertoire (or come to know it), most often I just have to pick it up as I go along. Stuff like classic rock, indie rock, folk, some east-coast Celtic-type stuff (one house band has a fiddle player).

    Sometimes it's a matter of it being a tune I've heard but never bothered to learn. In those cases it seems to be a matter of hearing what's coming up in my head, and knowing where that is from where I am (i.e. the progression is on a D chord, I hear in my what I'm pretty sure is a whole step up coming in the next bar, and play an E). Sometimes it's a matter of just being familiar enough with the style of music to predict some typical progressions changes, like a IV-V-I to finish a verse of a Celtic jig.

    The key is to not let on when your prediction fails :p

    I would say if someone is able to correctly predict the progression the first time through on a song they've never heard before - without sheets - they're either a) really, really well versed in the style of music and the song has a progression typical for that style, or b) they're just really, really good at hiding the times they didn't know what was coming next.
     
  13. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    If you can transpose it to any other key, use it within another context, explain/show it to someone ... essentially 'repeatable' and adaptable knowledge.
    If you can do that? - then 'theoretically', you know what you're doing.

    Sent from my Nexus 7
     
  14. LarsOS

    LarsOS Tele-Holic

    633
    Oct 24, 2011
    Norway
    As a bassist, if I'm unsure if the next chord will have an E, A or a C for a root - I play an E. Does that make me well versed in theory? :twisted:

    Just kidding, I'm aware that my theory is at the level of a well trained pet's.
     
  15. Cooper Black

    Cooper Black Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 13, 2012
    Asheville, NC
    Learning to sing gave me much more insight into playing by ear than learning theory ever did. Especially so with harmony singing.

    So, while I do know my chords/scales/keys, I use my ear to learn new songs all the time, and often make radical transpositions on the fly to arrange things to my tastes (while I'm learning new material—never live). If I'm singing the melody well and I'm mentally "in the song", the chords come along for the ride it seems.

    But it's an acquired skill and it took me a loooong time to get myself to this point. I can clearly remember the many years of not having this ability.
     
  16. brookdalebill

    brookdalebill Doctor of Teleocity

    Nov 15, 2009
    Austin, Tx
    It's been my "job" to do that very thing.
    As a result, I have excellent "chord radar'.
    I have played the same "lounge" piano trio for many, many years.
    The leader never tells us (drummer and me) anything, except to register
    his displeasure, over any number of things.
    Charming.
    Not.
    It has trained my ear for hearing changes very well, thank you.
    Alas, I am a very typical guitarist of my generation.
    I am a musical illiterate.
    I'm just an extremely well seasoned illiterate!
     
  17. DSharp

    DSharp Tele-Meister

    437
    Apr 26, 2003
    Southern Indiana

    No argument on that, but it does raise the bar a good bit above Larry's original statement that someone who "can play chords to a song that you've never heard before...knows theory well."

    You've added transposition, contextual variance and communication to the "play along" notion, a much richer way of making the point I was trying to make in my first post when I said: "(T)he essence of knowing theory is being able to talk about music in theoretical terms."

    So can we say that being able to play along with an unfamiliar tune demonstrates that I have a good ear; being able to transpose the key, use the progression in a different context and explain it to someone else demonstrates that I have a theoretical knowledge of what I'm doing?

    (And this is where I should insert the smiley face emoticon!)
     
  18. Wailin' Tele

    Wailin' Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jul 2, 2009
    Idaho
    Funny, but aren't you being generous with the number of jazz tunes needed?:) And would that be any Steely Dan?
     
  19. Wailin' Tele

    Wailin' Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jul 2, 2009
    Idaho
    Maybe I don't understand the question, and Im certainly not trying to be coy here, but isn't this a definition of a musician?
     
  20. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    No, there's actually about 40 tunes you need to know so that nothing in 'jazz' will surprise you;). You can cut it down to 20 if you just wanna be able to learn pop and rock stuff off records relatively quickly.
    As for the 'Dan ... Rikki don't lose that number and Deacon Blues will pretty much get it. *Josie's a good one to learn for extra credit.

    @ Dsharp ... As for for being able to express yourself verbally with other muscians - yes, it's a plus but as long as you can at least do the things I mentioned within a musical context i.e., on the band stand, in the studio, etc. you basically 'know' your theory. One can call it whatever they want. It's easier to communicate quickly with other if we use the same 'terms' but not absolutely necessary. I've worked with scores of great players who absolutely know what they're doing at all times but have difficulty explaining it in academic terms - but they know perfectly what they're talking about, lol!
     
  21. Wailin' Tele

    Wailin' Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jul 2, 2009
    Idaho
    You had me at 20. I must admit I'm captivated. One of these days you are going to have to post that list.
     
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