Playing by ear over tunes you don’t know can be challenging. I’ve found this easy ear training routine to really help in this regard. We’ll be trying to play and correctly label a random dominant 7th chord progression by ear. You can practice this lesson in a variety of ways:
1. Try to hear just the root motion (bass note) of any of the five the random dominant 7th chord progressions below. You can pause between each note if you need more time. Hum, sing, or do whatever you need to do to figure out the next bass note but don’t use an instrument. Really focus on getting the note right, not on the speed at which you get it.
2. Play one note or sing one note (C for example) over the whole random progression. Use the harmonic context to deduce the bass note. For example, if you’re playing or singing the note C and it sounds like the #11 than you know the bass note is F# or Gb and that the chord is therefore F#7 or Gb7.
3. Once you’re good at 1 and 2 try to improvise over the random progression, never play more than one note until you know what the chord is.
Always pause the track if you need more time to figure out the chord or root in the moment. If you do this a little bit each day you will notice major changes in your ear and how you hear harmony and melody. This is a great contextual ear training exercise and it will help you learn to play by ear over tunes you don’t know, and also help you connect more with your ear and voice.
The reason I do this with dominant 7th chords is that they are the most complex hamonically and all 12 chromatic notes work over them (the major 7 is a bit rough but Monk and Garzone have both written tunes with a major 7 on a dominant 7th chord). It’s important to be able to hear and recognize the major 7th on a dominat in any case, so if you find yourself playing it, you know what chord you’re on.
You can play along to any of the 5 differant mp3s below which are each random dominant 7th chords, about 5 seconds each:
Below is a RAR file with all 12 dominant 7th chords (shell voicing only = root, 3rd, 7th).
Download these mp3’s, unzip the RAR file and play the 12 mp3s on shuffle to create a random dominant 7 chord progression.