Chord progression identification methods

I recently acquired a nice collection of backing tracks. Each track is identified by its key signature, IE: “Mellow Uplifting Groove Guitar Backing Track Jam in G”.
I know all the chords in each of the keys, so that’s not a problem. My challenge is trying to detect the chord progression by listening to it. In the example I cited, it sounds like 1625 progression (G - Em - Am - D), but I’m not sure. I’m going to run it through Transcribe and see if I can sort it out, but I’m wondering if any of you have a sure fire, fairly quick and easy method of identifying chord progressions by ear.

Pam (BABG)


Hi @PamPurrs, sounds like the playalongs you can find on YouTube, where they also show the chord progression…

Is this the same track??


Yes it is. I bought the whole album from BandCamp. I had forgotten I’d be able to find it on YouTube. Thanks

However, for my reference, is there a simple way to identify chord progressions if you know the key it’s in?


Hm, I am not sure… if the chords are all diatonic and you know the key, then it should be fairly straightforward by finding the “best fitting” note for every chord on the bass, and, probably rightfully so, assume this to be the root of that chord; and then construct the chord by knowing the diatonic chords of, e.g., G major. In your example, it looks like all chords they used are diatonic in G, even though the vii chord should be a half-diminished chord instead of a diminished chord (maybe they were just sloppy or lazy in the description!?).

However, if the chords used are not diatonic, then I don’t know how to do it. Perhaps Transcribe! could help you to a certain extent!?! Otherwise, it is all up to your ears to, at least, glean whether it is a major or a minor chord.

Maybe someone else has some more ideas? It’s an interesting problem for sure!


Yamaha has an app called Chord Tracker which I have on my phone which works fairly well. I’ve tried it on some songs that I have the sheet music. The issue is you have to have the track on the device that the app is on. Check the thread “Let’s Talk About Apps Baby” for May 6. It was originally posted by @DaveT.


I can’t help but ask the question: if you have the sheet music, why would you have a need to identify the chord progression? :thinking:


For those songs I don’t have the sheet music. :slightly_smiling_face:


It’s like a calibration of the software/algorithm - if it correctly checks the known ones, it probably also works on the unknowns :smile:


Although I use the Chord Tracker app as a crutch to not being able to do it by ear, I am also interested in Pam’s question of the process people use to sort it out by ear. I’m curious if anyone has any insight into their process to shorten the trial and error method.

Do you think, "oh that sounds kinda similar to another song I know so it’s probably . . . "? Do you try some frequently used chord first and then work your way through the most likely candidates? Do you use what chord it was on last to guess where it probably goes next? Or something else? Or do you just have to go through the tedious process of guessing everything until you start to get recognize them easier?


I find Rick to be a treasure trove of brilliant technical information that I struggle to follow. When considering what to develop as a sequel to B2B, I think questions like this are golden territory for intermediate course packages.


Yeah he is, but he can get REAL technical real quick when he starts getting “chordal.”


Ear training ear training ear training.
Chord progressions can be difficult - it’s the equivalent of going from words and single verb tenses in a classroom setting to hearing complete sentences at conversational speed from a native speaker.

It gets easier and easier over time, as you’ll build up a literal vocabulary of chord progressions that are common in the music you listen to.

Playing a chordal instrument is very helpful as you’ll want something to check yourself with.

I was in the middle of transcribing it when I saw the chords in the video.
Ah. I suppose I don’t need to write it down then?

The more songs you learn by ear, the more you try and transcribe the chord progression and the more songs you play and chord progressions you play, the easier this gets.

Start with old Honky Tonk tunes.
99% it’s all 1,4,5 chords. (and sometimes a 2).


Something about Beato just puts me off. He is super knowledgeable but I find his channel to be similar to music theory clickbait, if that makes sense.

I find Adam Neely much more practical, when he keeps it relatively grounded and stays away from advanced jazz harmony anyway.

But it is entirely subjective of course.


Just chiming in to say there’s no magic trick to this, and you’re not missing anything - just takes lots and lots of practice.

But it might help to try to break it down into steps, like:

  • Figure out the root notes first
  • Then figure out whether each chord is major/minor/etc.
  • Do some Nashville Number analysis for your databanks (i.e. “ah, this is a I IV V progression”), so next time you hear that progression you’ll be more familiar