Bob Dylan has been making music for a long time. So you may be surprised to hear that when he was asked how he's improved over the years, he answered, "I can hear better now."
When Prince went on the Larry King show, King asked him what he'd learned from working with bass legend Larry Graham. Prince replied that Graham taught him a lot about "listening to one another."
Well, if musical greats like Dylan and Prince can still develop their musical ears, we can too. I've lately been going back and listening to groups like Genesis and Emerson Lake and Palmer, who I loved as a teenager. It astonishes me how much more clearly I can hear their music now.
The basic idea is to simply find ways to use your ears. One way is to go through a sightsinging or ear training course. This can help.
But there are lots of other ways, too:
Listen to the bass line as you play a song's chords.
Focus on the bass line or drum beat as you listen to a recording.
Teach vocal parts to a chorus or other vocal group. (This is a BIG help!)
Try to sing harmony along with a young child who's singing melody. (This may be hard at first, but gets easier as your ear gets better.)
Put on an orchestral recording and "tune out" the high and low sounds, focusing on the middle instruments that you often don't notice. Oboe, viola, cello, and french horns are good to begin with.
These ideas are just the beginning. Be creative. If you continually find ways to use your ears on a daily basis, you'll be amazed at what you begin to hear. And you'll be surprised at what you've been missing all along!
Here are some free piano improv lessons to help you develop your music ear in a fun way.