A great cover song can help an artist at any stage of their career - but the right cover song can catapult that discovery! 2 weeks ago, I outlined in my last blog (CHECK IT OUT HERE!) some important reasons why musicians and artists at all stages of their career should do covers. It is a lot of work to learn just one cover song and in this blog I want to share how I approach my learning curve and a couple tips I've picked up along the way!
1) Choosing the RIGHT Song
This can mean many things. The RIGHT cover can mean a song that is currently trending; a song that really resonates with you; a song that you can sing in you can pick up right away and play in your sleep; or it can be all of the above. The songs that you cover should bring out your musical strengths and you can use music theory to change the song accordingly to match your musical style. The 'Right" song is always going to be subjective and the parameters to measure which song is the "right" one unfortunately usually involves how many people it has reached, the exposure level, money etc etc. For me the "right" song is the one that feels good!
2) Listen and Imitate
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The songs that I cover are studied in detail than the ones I listen to casually. This means I would spend hours listening to the song as a whole, then I would start breaking it down into its separate components: 1) melody; 2) lyrics; 3) chord progressions. To lock down the melody I would sing with the track a few times and analyze harmonies, ad libs and gain inspiration for freestyle. Next I would search up instrumentals on Youtube that serves two purposes: 1) it is a self-test of how well I really know the song and 2) this is when I start to build on ideas of my own and get creative!
Probably the hardest part for me is learning the chord progressions but this is where I am very grateful for the Internet and the numerous of online resources that are at our disposal to speed up and make the learning process that much more easier. My top resources are Youtube, Ultimate Guitar tabs and my ear. I have a lot of respect for musicians who play mainly by ear because they depend on their training and on their natural gift! To solidify the basic structure of the song's progression into my memory, I play on my own at half the speed before I play in "real time" along with the track to ensure rhythm and timing are on par. This step takes the longest for me to learn and requires discipline on my part to practice consistently. Once I can navigate the keys without looking, then it's time to check out my coordination - how well can I sing while playing and still bring emotion to it?
4) Making it My Own
The whole essence of the original track was what drew us to liking the song in the first place and as musicians we want to honour and emulate every musical aspect that made it so. The beauty of doing cover songs is the freedom to incorporate our own interpretation and to add our personal creative flare. In other words, authenticity prevails! There are a few ways that I make a cover song "my own".
a) Since understanding and embracing my true voice, I often transpose the original key down to match my low timbre. This way I don't have to strain my voice and the low keys are where I vocally shine!
b) The half time practice on the piano allows me to apply my music theory. I often use extended chords (I often refer to them as my "crunchy" chords) to add flavour and dimension in addition to musical embellishments to the main melody! A great example of this would be my cover of India Arie's "Ready For Love".
c) My covers are often simple, stripped down, piano acoustic versions of the original tracks. (Jhene Aiko's "Stay Ready" Cover) If I feel up to the challenge and have time (in other words, I'm not lazy) then I would do a low-scale production and alter the feel and vibe of the track!
**All of these steps have 1 thing in common and that is consistency in practice!**
Stay tuned for a Youtube Tutorial on this very subject! I hope this blog helps you apply these tips to your own learning as you embark on your next cover song!