1. COUNT THE SONG OUT LOUD!: If you can't count the song you won't have an understanding of the beat and you won't be able to strum the guitar in time with the song.
**NOTE**: by counting OUT LOUD you are getting used to externalizing sound and the more we as musicians can externalize the sound that we hear inside our heads with using our voice it becomes much easier to "hear" the notes and chords to a song.
2. MUTE THE STRINGS AND PLAY AN 1/8 NOTE RHYTHM: by doing this you immediately get the "feel" of the song within the first 5-10 seconds of hearing a brand new song even if you've never heard the song before in your life.
3. WHILE STRUMMING THE MUTED STRINGS (1/8 note rhythm) LISTEN FOR THE BASS NOTES TO DETERMINE HOW MANY BEATS PER CHORD: every song has at least a verse and a chorus part so separate each section in your mind and see if you can hear how many beats each chord is.
4. WHILE CONTINUING TO STRUM THE MUTED STRINGS (1/8 note rhythm) LISTEN FOR WHAT BEATS THE CHORD PROGRESSION IS ACCENTING: music is all about what is being accented otherwise the entire song would sound very boring. So by listening to what is being accented (maybe it's the 1, the "and" of 2, then 4) you can already play the rhythm of the song without even knowing the chords yet.
5. LISTEN FOR THE BASS NOTES FROM THE BASS GUITAR AND TRY TO HUM THE NOTES: this technique is MUCH easier if you can sing, but even if you don't it can be learned in time as you can develop your ear and you'll be able to sing a note and find it on the guitar.
6. IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE WITH #5 YOU CAN ALWAYS LOOK UP THE CHORDS TO EACH SECTION (VERSE & CHORUS, or any other sections of the song): if you are not efficient with tip #5 or if you are teaching a 30 minute lesson and want to make the most of the lesson time you can always download a program like "Guitar Tabs HD" (for ipad), which I use sometimes, or "Guitar Tabs PRO" to help maximize the teaching time for the student.
7. AFTER YOU KNOW THE CHORDS YOU CAN DETERMINE WHAT KEY THE SONG IS IN: by knowing the chords to any song you can determine what key the song is in and why they chose those certain chords for the song, but we'll leave that for another discussion.
I have students all the time asking me to teach them a song I've never heard before in my life and this is the exact method I use as it sometimes will take just a couple of minutes to learn the song. If you'd like to read more about strumming patterns and basic music theory (1 3 5 + Major Chord) click this link:
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