What Word is on the First Beat?

Training our ear is probably the toughest thing to do in learning music. I can show you where to put your fingers and what string to pluck, but really we need to change the way we hear music in order for everything to make sense.

What’s funny is while the time (how fast and the count of the song) provides structure, lyrics/melody don’t always fit neatly within that structure. While thinking of guitar rhythms as going between 1-4 is correct, the melody often starts before or after the one and the melodic phrase can often extend over a measure. How do we start training our ears to be able to hear where things are? Thinking of what word is on the first beat.

Now this is tough due to the fact that we have to listen for a word and think about the time. It’s having to listen to two things at once. If the word is more than one syllable, try to think of what syllable comes on that first beat. A good way to begin is with the classic “Happy Birthday”:

In this version you’ll notice the music doesn’t start until the word “birth”. Yes, the word itself is “birthday” but really the “birth” is the word where everything else starts.

How about “You Are My Sunshine”?

“You Are My Sunshine”

What word is when everything kicks in? “Sun”. Not “You” or “Are” or “My” or “Shine”… “Sun”!

Okay, these cute examples but how about in regular pop music?

“I Want To Break Free” – Queen

I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you

For this one it’s the word “free” over and over again… see I made the first one not too bad!

“Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” – John Mayer

It’s not a silly little moment
It’s not the storm before the calm
This is the deep and dyin’ breath of
This love we’ve been workin’ on

What words are on the first beat?
“Silly” “Storm” “Deep” “Workin'”

“Stay” – Post Malone

It’s true
That all that you know is all that you are
You said that it’s all that you want and more

What words are on the first beat?
“True” “Know” “Are” “All”

Gimme Three Steps” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

I was cutting the rug
Down at place called The Jug
With a girl named Linda Lou
When in walked a man
With a gun in his hand
And he was looking for you know who

What words are on the first beat?
“Cutting” “Place” “Girl” “In” “Gun” “Looking”

Hopefully this opens your ears to listen a little bit differently when a song comes on the radio.