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HomeLJS PodcastLearn Jazz StandardsBeginner's Guide to Learning Chord Progressions By Ear

Beginner’s Guide to Learning Chord Progressions By Ear

Welcome to episode 302 where today I walk you through a in-depth process for how to learn chord progressions by ear. For some learning any music by ear is difficult, but when it comes to hearing chords and chord progressions, it can be even more challenging. You’ll learn some tips to make it easier and a step-by-step process for how to get started.

Listen to episode 302

You probably heard the advice before that it’s a great idea to, as much as possible, learn jazz standards, jazz solos, and other jazz improvisations by ear. This is because learning by ear is what the style lends itself best to as far as learning how to improvise goes.

Maybe you’ve gone through the process of learning melodies by ear and, despite the challenge, eventually got to the place where you could do that. The problem is, when it comes to learning chords and chord progressions by ear from recordings, it seems like an almost impossible task.

In today’s episode, I will go through a process with you to show how I would go about learning a jazz tune & chord progressions by ear as if I was a complete beginner.

In this episode:

1. Using backing tracks instead of recordings
2. Using a slow-downer to make things easier
3. Step 1: The Bass Notes
4. Step 2: The Chord Qualities

Important Links

LJS Inner Circle Membership

Free Guide to learn standards by ear: Learn Jazz Standards the Smart Way

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. I’m surprised to hear the advice to learn tunes from backing tracks. I seem to recall different advice about this in the past: “Number one is don’t use a play-along to learn a song. Don’t use it to learn a song, as an initial resource by any means. Don’t use it to learn the chord changes, you shouldn’t be doing that, you should be using a recording, lots of recordings of different jazz artists who are playing that song, and try to get the changes from that. You don’t want to be using a play-along for that, that’s not the right way.”

    I thought that was good advice at the time.


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