Author Topic: Hearing C and Am interchangeably at times  (Read 540 times)

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Offline nhill40

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Hearing C and Am interchangeably at times
« on: December 31, 2018, 11:52:10 pm »
Hi all!  I've been playing guitar off and on on a hobbyist basis for about 25 years (!!!), but only recently have I committed myself to playing strictly by ear.  In particular, I have really focused in on picking up chords.

One common (somewhat embarrassing) issue I've had is I have had multiple cases where I can't tell a C from an Am.  I understand these chords have a special, close harmonic relationship to one another and this is why you find them (and G/Em, D/Bm, A/F#m, etc) over and over and over again.  I think the problem is especially acute with C/Am because, in the classic "open" fingering on the guitar, the tonal quality between the 2 chords is very close...but ultimately they are 2 different chords and I would like to think I would be able to tell one from the other!  :)

Like possibly millions of other guitarists, my original and lasting inspiration to pick up a guitar was/is The Beatles, so I will use a couple examples from their music.

So in "From Me to You", which is in C, the intro -> C to Am:
"da da daa da da dum dum dumm" (Lennon/McCartney, lyrical geniuses, right?!?)

That C/Am difference sounds blindingly obvious to me.  I can easily hear the harmonic contrast on that last "dumm" as I listen.

But in "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" (kind of a filler track IMO, but still Beatles!), which is in G, I was able to nail this mini-progression in the bridge -> Em to A to C to D:
"I still love her"

But at the tail end of the verse, there is a similarish little motif.  Perhaps taking a cue from the structure of the bridge chords I heard -> Em to B7 to C to D:
"There's nothing for me here, so I will disappear"

But, in doing a little cheat and looking it up (once I was satisfied with my own arrangement), I was surprised to see in fact -> Em to B7 to Am to D.  Got me again!

If I play the 2 different versions (i.e. mine and the correct one) back to back, I can tell the Am fits better, which is encouraging...but my brain also still tells me "yeah, but the C fits ok, too" even across multiple different chord voicing combinations, which is really frustrating (stupid brain!)

Are there any tips/tricks anyone could offer?  Just more practice/listening?  Is this an unusual thing to get tripped up on?

Right now my crude plan is, anytime I think I've sussed out a C or a Am, try the inverse and see if it fits better.

Offline close2u

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Re: Hearing C and Am interchangeably at times
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2019, 10:25:41 am »
Hi, welcome to the forum.
You raise a real issue about really hearing the distinction when you're transcribing from a record with a mix of instruments.
My one key bit of advice is to listen to the bass note.
If you think you have figured a chord progression then play it by root notes only as though it were a straight-forward single-note per chord bass line. That might help you to hear it better.
The other development to work on is the difference between major and minor tonalities.
Can you play barre chords yet?
If you're unsure which chord is right then play them as barre chords rather than open chords to get a different voicing and a better idea of the sound.

Offline nhill40

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Re: Hearing C and Am interchangeably at times
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2019, 07:29:47 pm »
Thanks for the tips - the bass note trick in particular seems to really help.

Having been at this for so long, I wouldn't think this would be such a problem, but this is what you get when you put off learning to play by ear for a few decades!  ;D

Offline Sc77

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Re: Hearing C and Am interchangeably at times
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2019, 05:50:30 pm »
Hi :)
How about playing the C chord ,  then the C major scale , then the C chord again.
Then play the C arpeggio , then the C chord again.
It engrains the sound into the head.
Then repeat the process for A minor chord.
Say each note as you play.
 C major scale... c d e f g a b c
C major arpeggio c e g .....
A minor scale a b c d e f g a
A minor arpeggio a c e .....
Hope this helps


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