Transcribing Open Chords

Time to sort out songs that use open chords only! Here’s a list of 10 incredible tunes you can transcribe. :slightly_smiling_face:

View the full lesson at: Transcribing Open Chords |

3 posts were split to a new topic: Any advice on recognising the tuning of a song (e.g. half-step down) when transcribing single notes?

A few additional suggestions for open chord transcribing!

Take it Easy By The Eagles (5 Basic chords for most of the song).

Learning To Fly By Tom Petty (Four Open Chords)

Free Fallin’ By Tom Petty (3 Stuck 3/4 Chords)

Mr. Jones By Counting Crows (exception is one Barre Chord).

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Eb, Social Distortion “Ball and Chain”
Frank Turner “I Still Believe” (quite a few Frank Turner songs are open/capo’d chords, tough rhythm on some)
Eddie Rabbit " I Love a Rainy Night"
For finger style something like White Stripes “We’re Going to be Friends”

Just some that jumped out at me after watching. Really dug this lesson. Loved the “Playing while standing” lesson too!

Several Cat Stevens songs have easy open chords (with the occasional F chord), or at least the song book I have uses standard common chords. I’m assuming it’s correct and it does sound correct to my ear when I tried playing them.

Sad Lisa
Father And Son
Where Do The Children Play
Tuesday’s Dead
How Can I Tell You
Peace Train

Is there any way to check our answers?


The other day at a campsite session, someone asked me to play the chords The Lion Sleeps Tonight by the Tokens. I had to figure it out from memory on the spot, which means that it’s pretty easy. Fun challenge: the original recording is doo-wop instead of a guitar :slight_smile:

having a lot of trouble with these open chord transcribings. I really struggle a lot and keep listening but just cannot find the correct chord progression. I end up either giving up for some songs, or for others I feel like I finally nail it and then I look at the lesson and realize I’m all wrong with my chords.

Any idea what I can do to improve that? At this point it’s starting to be really disheartening

Do you have the right chord progression. What I mean is if the chords of the song are G C D and you come up with C F G this means you’re picking up on the chord progression(1 4 5) but not the Key.
Or are you just coming up with random chords that aren’t in the same key?
Knowing what chords are in the key of the song will help immensely. How well do you know the major scale?

@danmol Just so happens Justin posted a video today that should help you out

I see what you mean. I don’t know if I have the right progression or not, I wasn’t really paying attention to that. But it wouldn’t really help if I knew the chords in the key since I don’t know the key for the song anyways, right?

That’s what you figure out first. Listen to the bass guitar and try and match the notes he’s playing.
write then down this is the easiest why to figure out what key the song is in. It all takes time and practice to figure out the notes but once you have the notes you’ll know the chords.
Do you have software to slow the songs down? Even if you have to look up the key of the song at first. That’s OK transcribing is hard but the more you do it the easier it gets. Don’t quit trying it will come.

One suggestion to transcribe is Bad Moon Rising by CCR. I found that the chords are fairly easy to hear and the progression is simple.

I realize I’m not able to figure out all the chords accurately. How do I improve my ear to find 1) the progression of the song 2) the key (or first chord) of the song?

Are there more songs or apps that I can practice with?

Hearing absolute pitches or identifying chords is a difficult skill that comes with time and experience. Here are a few things that helped me with this process:

1 - Associating a chord and its quality with a song/riff that you immediately recognize

I can hear a G chord because I recognize it from the intro to Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
I can hear a D to Dsus4 movement because I recognize it from the Crazy Little Thing Called Love riff.
I can hear the B7 chord because I recognize it from Nothing Else Matters.

2 - Identifying chord progressions and the root chord

Many songs are built around the same chord progressions. The most famous one is probably the I - V - vi - IV progression. If you haven’t seen it already, watch this Axis of Awesome video.

Other very common progressions are:

I - IV - V - I
ii - V - I
12 bar blues

Start by learning to recognize 5 to 10 common progressions. If you can figure out the tonal center (by trial and error is ok), then you’ll know all the other chords too.

3 - Hearing relative pitch and intervals

I find this a lot easier than hearing absolute pitch. Let’s assume that you know how the intervals of a perfect 4th and a perfect 5th sound. They are generally the most easiest ones to spot.

When you have a song with a C chord at any given point, you should be able to hear when it goes from the C to an F or a G chord.

4 - Narrowing down your options

If you know the key of a song, e.g. A minor, try to identify the quality of the chord you’re hearing. Is it a minor chord? Then the most obvious candidates are either Dm or Em. Is it a major chord? Probably a C, F or G chord. Is it a dominant chord? You can bet it’s an E7.

Of course, this tactic doesn’t apply to songs that are non-diatonic and use borrowed chords.

So as you see, there are lots of ideas to try out.

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Hello everyone!

After transcribing a few tunes with open chords i noticed that i recognize the key and the chords of the song but sometimes not in the correct order.

Any ideas on why this happens and how i can improve?

Thanks a lot!

One technique that I found helpful to check if you’ve chosen the correct chords and chord sequence is to arpeggiate each chord while playing along to the song.

This lesson is kinda confusing.

Maybe it’s me but I would also like to see the answers. Of course I can get them from a chord website, but some have a different number of chords… like Lucky Man by the Verve has at least 4 chords if you take the bridge of the song into account…

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It also sounds to me like the “neither major nor minor” chord actually starts on the major before going to the suspended version, which would then put us at 5 chords when including the bridge, and possibly 6 if there’s another major/suspended pair, but maybe he’s counting those as embellishments rather than another chord.

Took me a while to get the hang of this but I just did Brown Eyed Girl and managed it in about 3 minutes - I checked and they saw they were correct, best feeling ever!