Confusing 6 with 1; and should I buy "Recognizing chords by ear"?

So when I try to play along with songs sometimes I stumble with songs in a minor key and I end up thinking as 6 as the root note, which I know isn’t tecnically wrong, but knowing how the 1 feels like in every harmonic environment is the point of IFR. I always end up recognizing that it’s minor when I try to play the 3rd and I notice that I actually have to play a b3.

I’ve focused all of my attention into leraning how the numbers feel individually, but I haven’t really done much concerning the 7 worlds, so I guess that would be my next step.

A month ago (exactly december 2nd) I bought the video course “Ear training for musical creativity” and I’ve completed it. I can do all the feel the numbers without mistakes, so I’m looking into progressing onto “Recognizing chords by ear” which I think also tackles this specific problem that I’m having.

Would you guys recommend getting “Recognizing chords by ear” in my situation? I can sometimes recognize chords by ear, the V chord is specifically clear to me; and I’ve managed to play along to random pop and blues songs just by ear, but I do feel that I need more clarity in this topic. Would this also help me with the tonal center problem?

For those of you that might question my fast progress, I should explain that I got the book a year ago (november of 2021) and I’ve been practicing this method on-and-off since then, I also joined a Jazz conservatory last year in january, so I’ve been busy with the school’s ear training method; but last month I’ve decided to get serious with this one as I feel that it is not only more enjoyable, but it will also give me better and faster results. I’ve been practicing with the video course “Ear training for musical creativity” daily since then.

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Have a look at IFR Jam Tracks Level 2, Pure Harmony Essentials. This was my next step after Seven Worlds. I dont know how it compares to the Recognising Chord course you mentioned as I dont have that one, but Pure Harmony was/and still is my goto for understanding and hearing chords.

@Asuryan Do you have Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds?

“Recognizing chords by ear” is about harmony rather than the ‘Seven Worlds’, so it’s at at Jam Tracks Level 2: Pure Harmony Essentials level.

Is there maybe some confusion here about the role of the term ‘Seven Worlds’ in IFR?

‘Seven Worlds’ is about how the 7 notes feel in the different harmonic environments. That’s where most people start with IFR. Building harmony with chords is usually the next stage after that.


Perhaps @MireiaClua or @ImproviseForReal (David Reed) might have something to add to this too?

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Yeah, I have the bundle of Book + Jam Tracks

Isn’t it pretty much the same? I would think that recognizing chords by ear means beaing able to recognize the seven worlds, as the chords of the major scale are basically the “source” of the seven worlds.

Don’t know if this ends up working like that in practice, but I believe that changing chords is the same as changing from one world to another (The I chord being the 1st world and the IV chord being the 4th world, for example). So my idea is that learning to recognize the chords would also develop the ability to recognize the seven worlds.

@DavidW Thanks for the fast reply btw, your insight is really helpful.

Another thing that I haven’t consider is isntead of “Recognizing chords by ear”, I could get “Sing the numbers” 2 & 3. I’ve noticed that I learn much faster with the guided courses such as these ones, so although I know the Jam tracks have essentially what I need, I’m okay with spending a little more money in order to progress more.

I think of the chords as being a “shorthand” for the harmonic environment/world. They dont contain all the notes, so cant define it completely, but they hint towards it. With the Seven Worlds jam tracks, you get familiar with each environment individually, before moving on to changing chords.

I used Sing the Numbers 2 along side the Seven Worlds Jam Tracks, and Sing the Numbers 3 with Pure Harmony Essentials. They align very well together.

@Asuryan The Seven Wolrds are more that just the chord tones. Each of the worlds is the whole set of 7 tones, with each tone felt in relation to whichever of them is considered as the home for the environment.

The usual @ImproviseForReal appraoch is to stay in ‘one world’ throughout most songs. Simply changing chord does not change the ‘World’. In your example if the song as a whole is in the first environment (i.e. in a Major scale if using traditional theory terms), then when you move to the 4 chord you are still in the first environment, but you are hearing the 4 chord in its role in that enviroment. In a different environment the 4 chord might feel to have a different role.

I hope that makes sense?

@Asuryan From what you’ve said of your musical background I guess you’re familiar with the idea of modes? Here’s a youtube video where David Reed (@ImproviseForReal) talks about the IFR harmonic environments and modes. Mabye it will help clarify the role of the Seven Worlds in IFR?

Great questions, @Asuryan. And I love that you are so dedicated to your music practice. It’s a pleasure to discuss these topics with musicians who are so focused and self-reliant. And I really appreciate all of the great advice shared here by @mem and @DavidW.

It sounds to me as though you’re already on exactly the right path. Recognizing Chords by Ear is certainly an interesting next step, but so is just spending more time improvising over IFR Jam Tracks Levels 1 and 2 as @mem and @DavidW described.

Let me just add my own perspective on one question that you raised which is the difference between a chord and a harmonic environment. I think it’s very helpful to return to the definition of a harmonic environment and to treat this definition with the kind of formality that we find in mathematics. The definition really contains the answer to your question if you take this definition very literally:

A harmonic environment refers to the way that all of the notes sound when a given note is acting as the tonal center. For example, when we say the “second harmonic environment”, what we mean is the sound of all seven notes of the major scale when we’re feeling note 2 as the tonal center.

That last phrase is what settles the question of chords vs. harmonic environments. It call comes down to when we’re feeling note 2 as the tonal center. This is subjective but it’s influenced by the structure of the music. If a song spends a long time in the 1 chord and only briefly moves up to the 2- chord before immediately coming back to the 1 chord, most people will continue to feel note 1 as the tonal center the whole time. This is what @DavidW was explaining about songs and chord progressions. In this example, we will experience the 2- chord as a kind of suspension or something out of place in the background, but we will still feel note 1 as the tonal center. What is the consequence of this? The consequence is that the sound of the individual melody notes doesn’t change. You won’t be tempted to call note 2 your new “note 1” because you don’t FEEL it as note 1. You might be able to recognize that note 2 is the root of the chord that’s sounding in the background, but it will still sound like note 2. So even though there are chords changing in the background, most people will continue to hear the notes as they sound in the first harmonic environment because they are continuing to feel note 1 as the tonal center the whole time.

But what if we don’t just pass through the 2- chord momentarily? What if we stay there a long time, so long that we actually forget about returning to the 1 chord? Then we will all eventually start feeling note 2 as the tonal center. And you’ll notice that the sound of each melody note has changed, and now they all sound like what we call the second harmonic environment. This is when you are likely to feel torn between calling the root note “2” versus calling the root of the chord your new “note 1”. But even though the tonal center has now shifted to note 2, there is still great value in continuing to call it “note 2”. Just because the tonal center shifts doesn’t mean we should change the names of the notes.

One of the keys to the success of IFR is the ability to separate these two ideas in your mind. If you are limited to the primitive analysis that every tonal center must always be called “note 1”, then you are condemned to a life of endless key changes. Your model works well to analyze the notes of a single chord or measure in a piece of music, but it’s a terrible model for understanding the entire song because every new tonal center must be treated as an isolated world in its own key. This is why we bring all of these sounds onto a single tonal map in IFR. But there is still the question (and there will always be the question) of where to overlay that map onto a song. Even if you are convinced of the value of having a single tonal map, you can still have doubts about which note of the song should be defined as your “note 1”.

You astutely pointed this out in the opening to your question when you said that you understand that neither interpretation is wrong (note 1 vs. note 6). And you are absolutely right about that! If you prefer to think of the root of a minor song as being a “note 1”, that’s totally fine. You just miss out on some of the simplicity and elegance of IFR, because now your tonal map must be built with a “minor scale” using several altered notes, and you’re going to encounter other chords with names like the following:

1 minor
2 minor b5
b3 major
4 minor
5 minor
b6 major
b7 dominant

But what are these chords really? They are just the seven chords of the major scale, just with somewhat more complicated names. But even these less elegant names could be workable (even preferable) to you if you really like the benefit of calling your tonal center note 1. So if a song’s tonal center stays on note 6 for the entire time, then I wouldn’t criticize you for adopting the system of names above.

Here’s the real problem. Most songs do not, in fact, stay in a single tonal center the whole time. And if the tonal center itself changes, now you need a NEW set of seven names for the seven chords! So it’s really not much better than the primitive analysis of calling every single chord your “1 chord”. In other words, it’s no harmonic analysis at all. You’re not getting to benefit from the simplicity of the song’s construction. Your model has introduced complexity where there was none.

This is my basic pitch for trying to encourage everyone to embrace the simplest definitions of the chords, which are closest to the origin of these concepts. The 1 chord will always be the 1 chord. The 2- chord will always be the 2- chord, etc. But this implies nothing about the tonal center. That is a separate issue which is not only subjective but it’s also ephemeral. This is ultimately why we do not want to tie our vocabulary to the tonal center. You can’t build a mathematical system on top of passing sensations. Your most basic elements must be permanent and durable. Those passing sensations of tonal centers and attraction are very real, but because they are temporary they should not alter our names for the notes and chords.

Sorry if that response was too long. But it’s a subtle topic and you’re asking great questions. And you’ve invested so much serious thought and effort into your practicing that I wanted to honor your question with a proper response.

Incidentally, this video will walk you through a musical demonstration of the phenomenon I described above where staying in the 2- chord for a long time will cause us to feel it as the new tonal center:

I hope that some of this has stimulated new connections or clarity for you. If you want to discuss it further, please feel free to post more. Thanks for the great question! - David


Thanks for the quick answer, @ImproviseForReal;
Last year my professor has been very adamant in changing modes for every single chord, so I guess my confusion arised from that. I’ve been shifting more to the IFR way of thinking music, since this more “mathematical” way of thinking that was introduced to me in college was really making me lose interest in playing guitar; I was still playing daily, but it felt more like HAVING to study and less of a creative exploration, which is why I fell in love with music.

My goal is making Music something instinctive, and I was feeling really discouraged; thinking that music wasn’t as all my favorite musicians I look up to, which are all great improvisers, made it up to be. Last semester was really full of self doubt for me; but the more I learn about the IFR method, the more I get my passion revitalized, as I feel I’m finally aiming back at my goal again.

My plan for now is learning as much as I can in the conservatory and then mixing it with this method, in the hopes of making my musical endeavors both complex and simple at the same time.

I’m still pretty far away from what I want to achieve, but I’m really thankful for all of you guy’s work.

Thank you.


@ImproviseForReal David! I love reading your extensively thorough and thoroughly extensive responses! They are absolutely necessary for the full understanding of the IFR method. And they make SO much sense as the most effective approach towards understanding music internally. Thank you always for taking such care with us as we try to assimilate music through IFR.

@Asuryan keep at it! It’s too bad the conservatory has to put such a stumbling block in the way, but I’m delighted to hear you will mix it with IFR!

Ciao, Mauro


Thank you both @Asuryan and @mcaputi for the kind words! Our hope for IFR is that it can be a place for true music lovers who want to study music as a creative art form, really taking the time to savor and enjoy each beautiful sound, and also discovering their own unique musical ideas and learning to express these ideas on their instrument. Switching between scales and modes for each new chord is totally inadequate for this purpose, because it introduces constant key changes which break the connection to the ear. But there are lessons to be learned from every way of studying music, so I applaud your openness to all of these different experiences.