How to memorise chord sequences?

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, …”


Yeah, it’s not really a short term aid. Keep at it, though, and it will gradually sink in. You’ve probably seen guitarists (or other musicians) that can hear a song and are immediately able to pick out the chords and chord progression. That’s usually knowledge of theory combined with their ear training and practice.

The ear training part is certainly holding me back. I suck so much at that. At the moment I can tell whether two notes are in unison or not, but as for actually picking the interval, I have no idea. I had a go at the interval trainer on the JG site and in level 1, I can pick the unison every time, but as for P4/P5, I might as well flip a coin for all the good my ears are doing.

I haven’t got much value out of conventional ear training either - suspect there is some other basic skill I need to master first.

What has helped is the transcription exercise in Grade 3 (which uses power chords to transcribe simple songs that Justin has chosen just for beginners).

There’s something powerful about formatting a song this way, especially when trying to get the phrasing of the lyrics e.g.


I find the first version makes it much easier to grasp the basic, linear structure of the song, and the way the lyrics sort of wrap around that…like a vine growing around a trellis (a sign of great song writing, IMO).

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Well, no pain - no gain, as the saying goes. The advantage of the Roman numeral notation is that you can adapt it to various keys. And after a time, you won’t have to “memorize” each bit of information as you will be able to apply more or less simple rules you learn in music theory (e.g. diatonic chords) or to “predict” what chords should come next.

For me, it’s always easier to recognize intervals “in context” as parts of melodies. Doing them individually is often a trial and error for me.

I think the sense in which the theory helps memorisation is that you start to get an idea of what’s likely to follow, for example a C chord, so instead of having to sort through all the chords in your repertoire to work out which is next, you’re just trying to remember if it was a (for example) Am or an F, and then at that point your ear will point you at the right one.

So I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t help “memorisation” exactly, it helps your ability to work out what’s next when the rote learning lets you down.


an idea of what’s likely to follow

Yep, that makes sense.

your ear will point you at the right one

:laughing: maybe your ear will point you at the right one. My ear will stare at me with a blank expression on its face and provide no help whatsoever.

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