Rate this post

Hey there, welcome to part 4 of How To Work Out Songs On Guitar By Ear. In lesson you will be learning some of the finer details of working out songs by ear.

So far in this series I have focused on getting you to be able to listen to a song and work out the chords by figuring out the key. By using a capo you have learnt that you can limit a possible 12 keys down to just 2 by using chords shapes from the G box or C box. Hopefully this information alone has helped you a lot but now I am going to let you know even more to try to make this second nature for you.

Your goal is to be able to hear in terms of Roman Numerals when you listen to the chords being played in a song, by thinking this way you will have a name for the sound of a G chord moving to the D chord- I- V (1-5) and you will have a name for a G chord moving to an Em chord- I- VI (1-6). This all relates to the key of a song and so it is important that you can find the correct key as discussed in Part 3. If you wish to know about key centres in greater detail then please see Be The Guitarist.

Also I feel I must mention that this method of using a G box or C box is great for the 90% of players who just want to get stuck in and play some songs on guitar and the thousands of singer- songwriters that make a living out of using a capo and thinking this way. However, some of you may want to understand the guitar in much greater detail and be able to play any chord you wish, anywhere on the neck. For you I recommend that you learn the method discussed throughout this series but also learn from the ground up and understand scales, key centres, modes and the CAGED system at the same time.

The Roman Numeral System

Below are the roman numerals next to the chord name for both the key of G and key of C. The idea is that you can think of chord IV as C when in the G box (Key of G). This way you will be able to hear a I- IV- V chord progression and play it on the guitar much easier because you have recognised this movement as a sound. In a key you also find a VII chord but you will not use it anytime soon for it is rarely used in popular music.

Key of G

I- G

II- Am



V- D

VI- Em

Key of C

I- C

II- Dm



V- G

VI- Am

How to Use This Information

So with this knowledge you may want to get stuck in straight away and if so, then here is an example of this approach to working songs out by ear put into practise.

Ok so we can take a popular track such as Set Fire To The Rain and study the chords used in each section to break down the track.

Adele ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ Chords

(Capo 5th fret)


Am- C- G- Dm

Verse 1

Am- C- G- Dm

Am- C- G- F

Am- C- G- Dm

Am- C- G- F

Looking at the intro with your knowledge of the key of C you can now quite quickly see that these are chords found in the C box (key 0f C). A minor is the VI (6) chord, C is the I (1) chord, G is the V (5) chord and D minor is the II (2) chord. Chord progressions are when you move between chords and you find there are some really common progressions that get used to great affect time and time again. This chord progression used in the intro is a VI- I- V- II and is not quite as common as a I- IV- V- I but is still a popular choice.

Keep a look out for more guitar lessons or subscribe to get notified when new lessons are out.

Tom Clark

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This