First things first: "Ear Training" is a horrible phrase.
So as you read this, feel free to substitute "improving your musical ear", "developing your musical instinct" or just "getting better at hearing stuff in music"...
A bit of background
I spent my teenage years learning electric guitar - and although I got pretty good, all I could play was the riffs I had learned and the songs I had memorised. I was okay at sight reading new stuff, and I could noodle up and down the pentatonic scale and call it "improvisation". But when I saw someone playing a song by ear or leading with a killer solo they'd just made up I was pretty jealous.
I figured they were "natural" musicians and I just had to play whatever music other people had written.
Long story short, I eventually found out just how totally untrue that is!
I don't want to over-sell it, but spending time actively developing my ear for music was the best thing I've ever done in music, and it made me realise that you don't need to be born "gifted" to have that kind of casual musical freedom. It's all made up of learnable skills - just like learning the technique of playing an instrument.
So if you've come across the term "ear training" and figured it was:
- Part of music theory,
- Something for expert musicians only,
- Not relevant outside of classical music,
... or if you've done some ear training exercises before and found them boring and too abstract...
Stick with me! I promise it will pay off.
Forget the classical music syllabus.
Forget the dry music theory textbooks.
"Ear training" is anything you do to improve your ear for music.
Simple as that.
So working out a song by ear, bit by bit? That's ear training.
Trading riffs with your mate and each trying to repeat back what the other played? That's ear training too.
And tweaking knobs on your pedals and DAW to find your perfect tone? You guessed it: ear training!