When I was in jazz band in high school, our first assignment was to listen to a CD that our conductor gave us. No scales, no arrangements, no chord progressions, just listening. This became a frequent theme in jazz band, having listening assignments. I didn’t listen nearly enough and while I understood the chord progressions and melodies of jazz, I didn’t listen to enough jazz to really feel it and understand it.
Fortunately I’m much less stubborn now and I take every opportunity I can to listen. Even though I want to pick up my guitar and try to figure out the song I’m listening to, I hold myself back now and listen. Just listen. Fully listen.
From being in bands I’ve realized that the most beautiful moments come when everyone is listening. Not when everyone’s playing. From truly un-distracted listening you will gain the skills to understand what gives a song it’s particular sound, or how all the instruments blend together and how all the parts work up to make the whole.
So next time you want to learn a song, or learn something from one of the greats, put down the guitar and just listen.