Many people wonder when they start learning music (or even before deciding to try learning an instrument): “Do I have a musical ear?”

Some will worry “Do I have the ‘gift’ of music?” and seek out an online test for musicality, to confirm they have it in them to become a musician.

These concerns are understandable. When you see pro musicians play seemingly effortlessly, and particularly when you see people playing by ear or improvising, it’s easy to think that music is a ‘gift’ you must be born with. That it takes a natural talent to be musical. TV shows like X-Factor reinforce this idea that there are a small number of “born musicians” who deserve success and recognition, and the rest of us can only watch.

This is a very widespread idea – but it’s nonsense.

We are all born with ears capable of understanding music on a deep level, and we can all become that “natural” musician through practice and training.

What is a musical ear?

The phrase “musical ear” is used to mean “ears which can appreciate and understand music deeply”. Some people find this comes to them instinctively early in life, and we might refer to them as having naturally musical ears. However, for the vast majority of musicians, musical ears are something they must work on and actively develop. They are continually making their ears more musical as they study and play music.

This means it’s not useful to wonder if you have a musical ear. You do.

Exactly how musical you ears are comes down a little bit to your nature – but mostly to how much you have trained your ears for music.

Am I tone deaf?

We have a whole FAQ dedicated to this fundamental question: What if I’m tone deaf? You can read the details the