How to memorise chord sequences?

Definitely. Being able to sing along to the song even if its just in your head helps solidify the song structure.

When learning a new song the first thing I do is familiarise myself with the song and produce a chord and lyric sheet with the strumming patterns. Then learn it in chunks intro, verse, chorus, link, outro.

Repetition is the key to memorising. Even when you’ve learned a song, you still need to keep going back to it from time to time to move it from the short term memory to the long term memory.

With the app you are not really learning the song unless you had the capability to loop the sections.


Plenty of good advice above.

This how I am dealing with it.

I am just coming to the end of grade 1 and working on the five songs. I think I have given my self a bit more of challenge as I want to sing as well, but see later.

The first two songs I have mastered are, Brown Eyed Girl and Bad Moon Rising, both of which have easy chord sequences to remember. I followed Justin’s advice and his 10 steps, learnt the chords and lyrics separately and then put them together at the end.

I am now onto third song Take me Home Country Roads where the verse and chorus have the same chords but different order, which makes remembering them more difficult. The bridge has completely different sequence. I have tried a different method, I know all the words and have typed the chord sequence for each line and I am memorising that and keep testing myself by having to write them out. This is where the singing comes when I am started practicing playing the chord sequence I am singing as well and this seems to help as I know when to change and what chords go with the words. I know it is not Justin method but if it works that’s fine.

Overall I did start playing along with the app to start with, then learnt the song and after that gone back to the app to get the tempo right.

To sum up unfortunately it just comes down to hard work with plenty of practice and getting that chord sequence fixed in your memory, a bit like the spelling tests you used to have in school, not sure they do that now.

Hope that helps

Michael :grinning:


You may be on to something here. I find I can sometimes hear the next chord in my head…but it’s very inconsistent and unpredictable.

As far as ear training goes, chord identification seems like a much more valuable skill for most of us at the beginner/intermediate level. As far as I can tell, most ear training starts with identifying intervals, which I don’t find helpful for identifying chords…but maybe I’m missing something.

If you have any more tips, I’d be very interested!

Hey Michael, they did do spelling tests when I was at school (can’t speak for whether they do it now), but because of the slightly weird way my brain works, I never had to intentionally memorise the spelling of any words. Spelling just “clicks” for me. Chord sequences, on the other hand, do not click.

As you say, it’s a matter of hard work, but it’s a type of hard work where I am not sure what kind of training will be most effective for me. There’s a bunch of good ideas on this thread, I will have to try them out and see what works.

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I have a related issue, which I call “Muscle Memory Considered Harmful” (some of you software dev folks might get the reference :slight_smile:)

I’ll be practicing a song, and maybe looping a particularly difficult chord change. Then I’ll start practicing a different song, with a different change, but my hands will automatically do the change from the previous song.

I solve this - sort of - by “thinking ahead of my hands” … anticipating the next change a bar or a few beats ahead of the change. But that assumes I’ve memorized the chords - which isn’t always the case.

Anybody else have this experience?

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As far as showing the whole song structure, Philip came up with an interesting format:

I am sure you will find a solution.

My Mentioning spelling test brought back bad memories, I was absolutely hopeless at it and also remembering poetry. Scientific formula and the like no problem at all.
So when it came to learning the lyrics that was really really hard work. I decided to learn the words for all five songs before I started to learn the chords. It is one thing to sing along with the app and quite another to turn the vocals off and sing just you but it is very helpful to getting a feel for the song.
Michael :notes:

I found that writing down the chord sequences of the song in your notebook helps in addition to playing the whole song through from beginning to an end.

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Yes, it’s happening to me at the moment. A new song I’m obsessed with and progressing well has a similar fingerstyle pattern to another old favourite. After practicing the new song, I find it difficult to play the old song.

I’m bringing the old song back into my daily practice rotation and it’s helping but still a challenge.

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Yep, and down the road when you can sit and play from memory for a long period of time you’ll appreciate what a worthwhile exercise it is. I used to watch the experienced musicians play song after song from memory and wondered how they do it. Now I can play for several hours from memory and it just came from repeated “hard work with plenty of practice”. And it’s such great fun.


That is unpredictable for me too. But when you can play a simple A-D song out of memory is because your ear can tell you when the chord changes and, for me, I can focus more on Rhythm and the touch of my fingers on the strings (which is something I struggle as well) if I don’t have to follow the music sheet at the same time.
The only tip I feel I can give is practice what makes sense to you. Practicing songs like this makes a lot of sense to me, and slowly I feel like I’m building a real connection with the fretboard…it’s taking me a lot of time really nailing one single song (pencil and rubber until I can do it without having the chords, but once you get it into your ears you’ll retain it and it won’t get much time bringing it back after a few months you haven’t played it. Cheers :slight_smile:

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Muscle Memory Considered Harmful

It hasn’t been a big problem for me so far, but yeah I know what you mean. After playing a song like “Dreams” where I repeat Fmaj7 - G for (nearly) the whole song, then try to play something else with a G, my fret hand feels like it wants to autopilot from G to Fmaj7, maybe for the first couple of changes, then it sorts itself out.

And yes I did understand your reference :wink:

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I found this very helpful, especially if you write it down in a structured way, with four bars of the song per line on the page. For example, I might write something like this for the chords of Folsom Prison Blues:

|E        |E        |E        |E         |
|A        |A        |E        |E         |
|B7       |B7       |E        |E         |

When you see the pattern it’s a lot easier to remember than a random sequence of 12 chords.

@Richard_close2u made a similar point in previous thread, but I can’t locate it right now.


Yes, I have a similar approach, but instead of bars I write down a strumming-pattern(s) on top of the page.

Thanks @jjw

It was a similar comment in a similar topic.

@direvus - the whole topic is worth reading.



The brain is like a muscle, it will only improve when you add resistance. Playing with the app is great for many things but memorization isn’t one of them.
If I want to memorize a sequence I’ll start by playing along with the app. This gives me an overview of the song, the sequence of chords, the tempo, etc. I’ll play along until I feel a bit comfortable with it.
Then I’ll play along without looking at the app but with my screen still in view. There are the occasional “cheats” with a quick glance at the app but as much as possible, no looking.
Finally, I’ll turn my screen around so I physically can’t cheat and play a long. By now I should be comfortable with the song and I can almost always tell when I’ve made a error (and correct it for next time).
I believe that this sequence of increasingly difficulty helps to memorize the sequences.

Also, I have found that like others have said, breaking the song down into the various sections and then using the above process is the fastest way for me to memorize.



Another slight addition to my previous post about memorising then testing myself by writing them out that I tried yesterday.

With guitar in hand I tried to form each chord in turn, didn’t really strum perhaps a light flick with my thumb over the strings, this was only to give a little gap between each chord change. Hoping this might help with muscle memory.


That’s pretty much what I do to help with this. I will play the chord sequence with one strum per chord to start with so that I can memorise the sequence and chord grip. Once I have that in my head I move onto play the bars as required by the song.

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“Repetition” is the most basic answer. Taking it in chunks is another.

And this is where “theory” comes into play. If you learn what chords are in the key, and the function of those chords, it becomes a lot less arbitrary and more meaningful. Eventually you can start thinking about the chords in terms of their function (e.g., the I or “tonic” chord, the IV or “subdominant” chord, the V or “dominant” chord, et cetera). At some point that “head knowledge” blends together with your ears. It doesn’t happen overnight, though.


Hi Jason,

I don’t mind learning the theory, in fact it’s kind of interesting. I’ve actually been doing a bunch of reading on chord progression the last couple of days.

As a way to aid memorisation though, I don’t see it helping me any time soon. If I have to memorise a sequence like “C - G - Am - C”, thinking of it as “I - V - vi - I” is actually harder, because then I have to memorise the sequence as numbers, and be able to map the numbers back to the chords. And thinking of it as “tonic - dominant - submediant - tonic” is even harder again, because then I have to memorise the sequence as jargon terms, plus know the mapping of the jargon terms back to the numbers, and then map the numbers back to the chords.

I’ve been having a go at writing out the chords for songs by hand, grouping them into a 4-bar grid like @jjw suggested has been a useful tool for me . At the very least it helps to identify where the patterns are, so you can think in terms of “4 repeats of the verse chords, then 2 of the chorus, …”