Different musicians and music educators will have different answers to this question, but here at Easy Ear Training we believe it boils down to two core abilities:

A. Hearing accurately

  • Being highly aware of the sounds your ear senses.
  • Hearing detail where others might just hear a “blur” of sound.
  • Hearing in depth, being able to pick apart and uncover layers in the overall sound.
  • Judging details such as pitches and timbre reliably

B. Understanding what you hear

This is about classifying the sounds you hear: mapping them onto useful, meaningful concepts.

  • Knowing the names for what you hear – the exact terminology doesn’t matter, but having clear, unique identifiers does.
  • Knowing the underlying music theory gives your brain the mental frameworks to construct useful models of what you’re hearing.
  • Understanding why composers, performers and engineers make the choices they do in writing, playing and producing music.

People who have developed their ear to do both of these things often seem like a “natural”, when in fact there was considerable hard work and ear training involved!

In the audio world people with particularly sensitive ears, and the ability to understand and act on what they hear in great detail, are often referred to as having “Golden Ears”!

Those still working on their development are sometimes called “silver ears” – or the most humble call themselves “brass ears”!

See also “How do I get good ears?”

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • What’s a “good ear”?
  • What are “Golden Ears”?
  • What does it mean to have a good ear for music?
  • Who has good ears for music?
  • What is a musical ear?