Listening to the song

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So I was wondering what do you listen for when you play a song because I'm horrid at it and I've been playing for awhile now. I do terrible on auto-pilot and would like to get some tips on how to get better. People say its possible to sight read and FC insane songs on hidden so there has to be a "right" way to listen to a song.
Depends on both the map and mapper.

You listen to what is mapped (instrument, vocals, whatever) and follow the rhytm of that.
After playing enough, you'll eventually be able to instinctively know where a note falls rhythmically in a song based on when it appears on the screen, even if you've never heard the song or played the map before. Of course, this is harder for maps with more complex rhythm patterns (syncopated streams, 1/3, etc), but it's possible.

Once you've played a map and have a general idea where the notes go, the timing should come naturally. Most of the time, I just keep a basic quarter-note beat going in my head (the percussion is often useful as a metronome) and tapping the notes where I know they go in the meter. Only if I can't get a pattern down naturally will I try and link it to an instrument in the song.

As a side note, I always do terribly on auto-pilot. I"ll get like 90% with AP on songs I can 98%+ on no-mod. I don't really know why.
Approach circles are your friend.

When you begin to use hidden. Approach rate + map timing is your friend.

I can read a map that is completely off time by following approach circles.
let a metronome play in your head

plan ahead, stuff appears -> connect it to the invisible timeline -> play
Don't take auto pilot at face value. I don't know why, but auto pilot never worked for me, it's consistently late (~50ms) compared to the music. Relax on the other hand is always synced properly so I don't think it's an offset issue.

Make sure you watch your own replays if you're wondering whether you followed the music properly. It's a lot easier to tell by watching replays, rather than doing in on the fly while playing.
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