How To Find Chords For A Song – An Essential Guide

Learning how to find chords for a song is an essential part of being a guitarist – let’s dive in!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How to find chords for any song
  • What the Circle Of Fifths is
  • How to use this concept to find the chords of a song
  • How to build your background in theory to make life easier!

How To Find Chords For A Song: Easier & Harder, Than You Think!

Search engines!

That’s how to find chords for a song! The end!

Just kidding, sort of. You can definitely just search the title of the song you want to learn and you are very likely to find the chords for it.

  • Whenever we start talking about how to find chords for a song, some of our elders hark back to a time when the only option was to drop the needle on the record player until it wore the record out.
  • While we can “ok boomer” that away if we want and rely on search engines, there’s something to be said for the entire spectrum of effort and learning involved in figuring out how to find chords for a song.

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Today is all about learning how to find chords for a song using several different methods, separately or in combination.

We’re all fundamentally inspired to pursue the music that we do as a way to improve on the guitar and other instruments.

The process of figuring out how a song goes can be quick and easy, or it can take a very long time with a lot of research, practice, adaptation and fine-tuning.

Wherever on the spectrum you intend to work, here’s how to find chords for a song you want to learn.

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How To Find Chords For A Song: Internet Search

Yes! You absolutely can and should search the song you’re looking to learn and you’ll get instant results that you can use right away.

If you haven’t tried it already, just Google the song title and the word “chords”.

  • “Stairway to Heaven chords” or “Blame It On the Bossa Nova chords” or “I Predict A Riot chords.” You’ll find them all, basically right away.
  • In fact, you’ll find more than you could possibly ever feel like sorting through to find the best one.
  • The first results are typically the ones that rank the highest on search engines, and are therefore usually the highest-rated or most reliable.

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Ultimate-Guitar.com – Top Results

Based on our extensive song-searching experience, it’s pretty likely that the first results you will see will come from Ultimate-Guitar.com.

Of all the song libraries on the web that provide you with chords or tablature, Ultimate-Guitar.com has been continuously growing and is now certainly the most extensive.

You’ll probably find several results for the song you want on this site.

The results are all user-rated for accuracy and completeness, so it can be as simple as finding the highest-rated version.

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Other Search Results & Choosing the Right Ones

Ultimate-Guitar.com excels at delivering vast quantities of material, usually with at least one or two very high-quality chord charts or tab sheets.

But what about the other 50 pages of results that turn up? Is it ever worth delving into?

  • We say yes! If you want to know how to find chords for a song, you want to learn how to find the absolute best resources you can.
  • They are not always available for every song, but if you are looking for material from extremely popular and longstanding artists, you may be in luck.
  • Some of these artists have either an educational background or an extremely dedicated and musical fan base, and they have developed entire sites dedicated to the music of just that one artist.

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The following is a by-no-means-exhaustive-or-thorough sampling of artists whose music you can learn thanks to the dedication of their fans.

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Pro-Tip: You can stop learning how to find chords for a song after Googling it and finding some results, but in order to learn extensively, you’re going to need to start with the information that comes next.

Keep reading!

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How To Find Chords For A Song: Basic Ear Training

Most chord charts you find in an Internet search are imprecise in one way or another out of necessity. They require some interpretation and in some cases, even some editing!

In order for you to be able to figure out the chords yourself, or to tell whether what someone else has done is correct, you need to be able to do three things, at a minimum:

  • Figure out what key the song is in
  • Listen for when chords are changing
  • Use the circle of fifths to figure out which chord is being used

To show you what we’re talking about, we’re going to use Los Lobos’s version of “La Bamba”, because it only has three chords and the changes happen pretty regularly.

When you are figuring out how to find chords for a song, be sure to choose a simple one so you can learn the process more easily.

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How To Find Chords For A Song: Figuring Out The Key

The key of a song is the note and chord that serves as the home base or landing pad for the song.

If the song has a definite ending, you can tell the key of the song because it is generally the last note in the melody or the root of the last chord in the song. It sounds like the song has landed and is over.

  • Many songs, like “La Bamba,” don’t have definite endings but fade out instead. No problem! Just listen in the chords for when the song feels like it’s beginning to hit home.
  • The guitar riff in this song is a major piece of evidence. In the very beginning, do you hear that guitar walk up for four notes? It walks up to a C, the “home” note. This song is in the key of C.

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How To Find Chords For A Song: Listening For Chord Changes

Listening for when chords changes occur is a fundamental skill in figuring out how to find chords for a song.

It’s not terribly complicated to do, but you have to listen for when the melody shifts or when the music behind the melody shifts.

  • In “La Bamba” for example, the lyrics at the beginning are “Para bailar la bamba.” When you get to “bam,” you can hear the shift.
  • There’s a chord change right after “bamba,” and then there’s another chord change right before the second “para bailar la bamba.”

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So, we know the “bamba” chord is C. That’s the start of our chord progression.

Before we figure out what happens in those other two chord changes, the one right after “bamba” and the one right before the next “para bailar”, we need to determine the duration of each chord.

  • To do that, you can clap or count along with the beat of the song. Listen along and see if this makes sense.
  • You should hear “C-2, change-2, change-2-3-4.” That’s two beats of the C chord, two beats of the second chord, and four beats of the third chord.

The whole progression repeats itself throughout the song. So the chord progression looks like this, where the vertical bars indicate a measure split into two chords and the X & Y represent the chords we don’t yet know.

|C  X| Y

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Identifying The Other Chords

When you’re figuring out how to find chords for a song, this is where things get a little uncertain.

It takes a lot of time and experience to be able to identify chords out of thin air, but what it definitely does not take is some kind of special talent that you don’t have.

The reason we chose “La Bamba” as the example song is that it is simple and repetitive. More specifically, it is a basic I-IV-V song.

Almost all songs are I-IV-V songs in some way, and the basic ones are the ones you want to listen to in order to develop your chord identification skills.

In the meantime, check out the circle of fifths. Let’s discuss below.

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There is a lot to know about the circle of fifths, but here’s the thing about it that is useful to you in learning how to find chords for a song.

The circle of fifths organizes notes, chords, scales, and keys according to what they have in common and how good they sound together. We don’t need to crack open why right now (but we will later).

One magical and wondrous aspect of the circle of fifths is that it just flat-out tells you what the I, IV, and V chords are in a song.

  • If we are in the key of C (and we are), then C is the I chord. The chord immediately counterclockwise is the IV chord (F) and the chord immediately clockwise is the V chord (G).
  • So the chords in “La Bamba” according to the circle of fifths are |C F|  G.

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Pro-Tip: To improve your skills learning how to find chords for a song, either using the circle of fifths  or just your ear, get solid on the fundamentals first.

This is done by using a “control group” of songs that you already know stick very close to the basic I-IV-V progression. Here is a gigantic list.

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How To Find Chords For A Song: Use Your Theory!

Whether you’re figuring out how to find chords for a song using only the power of your ears or you’re trying to vet a chord chart you found by Googling, you’re going to need some theory.

You don’t need much, but you do need some.

If you have none at present, you’re in the right place.

Check out this introductory lesson: Music Theory for Beginners

There are a few individual theory skills you need to hone if you want to know how to find chords for a song. They are:

  • Being able to hear and identify intervals
  • Getting familiar with the idea of where a note sits in a scale
  • Knowing how to build major and minor chords

Developing a solid command of any one of these concepts will help you find chords for a song, but they are related and they work in conjunction with each other, like clues.

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Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Hearing & Identifying Intervals

One big clue to identifying a chord progression in a song is what the bass is doing. Being able to hear a bass line can help you quickly identify the chords.

This is because the job of the bass is generally to play the root of the chord – the note that gives the chord its name – at the moment the chord begins.

Listen to the beginning of “Summer Nights”, another I-IV-V song.

  • If the first two notes are I, the interval to the second two notes is a perfect fourth (IV). The next two notes are a major second/whole step up, which makes that V.
  • “La Bamba” works the same way, but the bass line is harder to hear.

National-Guitar-Academy

Scale Degree: Where Are We In the Scale?

All melodies are based on some sort of scale, and in “La Bamba,” that scale is the C major scale.

If you can map out where the notes you find in the melody or underlying chords sit in the C major scale, you can figure out what chords are happening.

For the most part, important notes are those that are sustained for a long time, those that end a melodic phrase, or those that sound like they really fit in with what’s going on in the rest of the arrangement.

If you know where in the scale the note sits, that gives you an important clue as to what chord is happening in that moment.

For example, in “La Bamba,” the opening guitar riff goes like this: 5-6-7-1, 3-5-4-4-6-5. Look at where the 1s, 4s, and 5s are. They correlate with the chord progression.

Know Your Chord Construction Rules

A little knowledge of chord theory goes a very long way in knowing how to find chords for a song.

The important note you find and use may not be the root of the chord, but it is almost certainly a chord tone, and that’s a very significant clue.

  • It’s usually either the root, the third, or the fifth of the chord that is happening at that moment.
  • Sometimes it’s the seventh, as in “Para bailar la…” – an F is being sung over the G chord, which is the seventh.
  • Most of the time, however, like when the vocals get to “bamba,” it’s a root, third, or fifth being sung. In the word “bamba,” the third and root of the C major chord are being sung.

How to Find Chords For A Song: Just Keep Digging!

The best way to get good at finding chords for the songs you love is to use every skill at your disposal.

Relying on the web or a book helps you to begin relying on your ears, and using your ears helps you to evaluate the information you get from the web or a book.

You can definitely do this, and learn to do it well, if you let yourself make mistakes and learn from them!

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