As I continue to see a lifetime’s worth of students, I notice how there are really are basically two categories; those who can trust their ears and those who can’t! It really boils down to be literally as simple as that, and you never know at what point in your development this “ear” part will really take hold. The important thing to know is that you must begin to truly “recognize” tones and tonal relationships. These “intervals” will become key in developing what is called perfect relative pitch. Relative pitch enables us to learn as we go, on the “fly”, as it were, and we get these sonic relationships literally “etched” into us by hearing these things over and over again.
I have had some students who will come in to see me with a plethora of technical and theoretical knowledge, but who don’t have a clue as to how to apply all this theory in day-to-day playing and listening. When they say they are “tone deaf”, I say “how can you say that? Don’t you love music? Doesn’t it affect you? Well, those are tones and tonal relationships you are responding to!” Therefor whether or not you really know it, you are NOT tone deaf, and definitely have a means by which you do recognize, and are affected by, certain intervals.
At a certain point, the technique and theory part must really give way to the emotional and artistic part of you, which depends far more on what you are internally “hearing” as opposed to what you are externally “knowing!” I simply learned to play just by ear, and by experience. I never knew what a “scale” was, until I realized all these phrases and musical statements I was playing actually did come from certain scales and shapes that I could recognize and therefore, teach. Teaching, and having to “take apart” what it is I do really helps me to further learn for myself.
The “courage” to use that “ear” of yours is really what separates the men from the boys, since you must be willing to step out on a limb and even make mistakes if you have to. Believe me, when you make mistakes at certain critical junctures, you never will do them again…..at least almost never! Take those bold steps, and you’ll be opening so many new musical doors….play what you are NOT comfortable with, play “outside” your normal comfort range! So many players complain of being in a rut, or being tired of the “same old thing”; well, I try to tell them that they haven’t even begun to realize what the full potential of those positions they are so bored with can yield! I have never run out of ideas, and you should never, too! Keep stretching out, and reaching…believe me, you will make strides, and always, always, strive to use that “ear” and learn most of all, to trust it! Best of luck!