I cannot emphasize enough the true importance of ear-training and “hearing the changes” in a song. This is really the only way that you will know you are growing in a musical way, and even though some people obviously are keener at it than others I believe it’s an ability that we all possess!
Real ear-training is the kind of thing that must be honed and developed over time. Now that I have achieved the ability to hear any change, and the fact that I hear literally everything as a tonal and musical relationship, I can think back and see that even at a very young age, I was already displaying this ability, and using it internally for all kinds of games and ideas. And what I mean by “games” is that my young mind would always “play” with the sonic relationships that I heard and recognized. I still do this all the time….if someone drops a plate in a restaurant, and there’s music playing somewhere, I can immediately identify that plate’s note as a 7th, a 6th, a 9th, or whatever sonic relationship it has to the original “pad” of the song that is playing. Remember that everything has a note to it, and it just becomes your job to start to recognize just what that note is, and more importantly, its relative pitch in relation to other music you are hearing.
Recognizing portions of “riffs” and “licks” you already can play easily is another way of training your ear. Those note groupings and patterns can really become emblazoned in your ears, and portions of them should become instantly recognizable, anywhere in life. I have a student who for example, always gets a phone call on his landline while we have his lesson. I always imitate the phone’s ring on the guitar, as it’s actually a perfect E Blues “trill”, consisting of two notes. It always makes him laugh how I hear this, but more importantly, I am trying to convey this ear training process to him, and hoping he starts to do his own recognizing of tonalities and note relationships/intervals. I guess there’s a music lesson in just about anything we use our ears for, and the experiences we go through as musicians all leave their indelible mark on us as we continue to use memory as a part of our learning.
As you continue to move on through this process, you’ll see that it is actually a total joy to develop your ear, and the more you open yourself up to what you “hear”, the more you simply do hear! And then of course, the more you “hear”, it makes sense that the more you’ll be able to play, and that, ultimately, is what it’s really all about! Hope you enjoy the process…I certainly have, and continue to, more and more with each new day!