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Covering songs - do you have to play it the exact same way as the original?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by negol, Jan 7, 2014.

  1. negol


    Apr 19, 2013
    Like the title says; when covering a song, do you ''have to'' put the bass parts the exact same way as the original, or can you put it where you want to (as long as you keep the beat) without messing up the whole song when playing with others?
    I'm asking this because I always have trouble playing to the original song, I never seem to be able to put the bass in the same Places as the original, unless it's something super simple like Louie Louie where you really have no choice.

    Hope this makes sense... thank you.
  2. stonewall


    Jun 14, 2010
    I get it as close as i can as i believe everyone in the band should.If we all do our own thing oh boy what a mess things will be.
  3. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    you don't have to, but you have to be able to. master the original parts first and then feel free to improvise.

  4. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    This gets kicked around on TB on a pretty regular basis. I am in the camp that says no, you don't have to play it just like the recording. The reason is that the recording itself is not "the original" - it is a recording of the way it was played by a particular musician at a particular moment. The recording that got released by a record company happens to be the take or the version that the producer thought would sell best that year. It's not the Bible, the original artists mess with it all the time and there's no reason anyone else shouldn't feel they can too.

    Besides that, chances are very slim that you are going to find yourself in the exact same circumstances as the band that made the recording did. What if you don't have a keys player or a second guitarist or horns? There's going to be empty space that someone has to fill - maybe you. Or what if the "original" was recorded by a trio and is very sparse, but you DO have horns and keys and whatnot in your band - you're probably going to have to lay back in places where your counterpart in the recording stretched out, to give your bandmates space to play in.

    Now for learning purposes, it's a great exercise to learn to play a part just like a master musician did. If you're not ABLE to reproduce their performance, that gives you something to work on. A lot of the note-for-note guys will make hay out of cover bands that play a song "their own way" because they're incapable of playing the original line, and that's fair as far as it goes. But in my opinion we're all on a learning curve, we all have room to improve, and there's no reason NOT to perform a song just because you're not yet at the level of the master who first recorded it. Just keep working at it, and in the meantime play the music the best that YOU can play.
  5. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Best to learn a tune EXACTLY as recorded. After that, many things are possible, depending on the band, etc.

    This is a point which can cause dissension in bands. Some want to sound like the Juke Box. Others want to do other things with it. If you start with really knowing the tune inside out, then you can take it other places as appropriate. Or not. The key is that everyone discusses specifics as to how the tune will be approached and decide up front how that will be handled. Don't let it somehow develop by ESP. ESP sometimes works, often doesn't.

    The thing I will say kills me about the folks that want to sound like the Juke box is that they seldom pay attention to the mix on the recording. By which I mean that for most tunes the levels are set with vox out front, snare on the backbeat next, then bass, then the guitars and keys and rest of the drum set. IME all that gets reset, but they will want you to play the tune EXACTLY. Kills me every time. LOL. GLI.
  6. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Depends on what kind of music we're talking about. I'd steer clear of going crazy on U2 songs but if you play some Hendrix - play your butt off!
  7. May depend on the song; it should at least sound like what everyone would expect to hear. But some tunes will give you more leeway than others.

    I was learning "Fire" by Springsteen right after joining a band that was a few levels above what I had done before. I had the changes, but not the distinctive pattern. Thought I could wing it. :scowl: I got a very stern lecture from the BL, which I totally deserved. So I woodshedded that sucker until I could play it in my sleep.
  8. tgriley62


    Jan 25, 2011
    S.E. Mo
    IMO it depends on a couple of things. 1. I have been playing for 4 years and I am 51. I tried in HS to play but gave up and quit. Now at my age my fingers don't move as fast as they did 35 yrs ago so on some songs I can not play as fast as the original so I improvise. 2. If it is a song with a classic bass line such as "money" by Pink Floyd you shoud be as close to the original as possible. But, as I stated before, 90% of an audiance will not notice if you are not playing note for note but, 99% of an audiance will be able to tell if you are out of tune or playing the wrong notes
  9. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    I think it depends. Deviating from the original is probably easier for bass players than it is for singers or guitarists because most people aren't explicitly aware of the bass. If a bass line stands out, it's probably more important to play it note for note if you're in a cover band. Personally, I like to learn exactly what is on the original recording. When I play something different, which is not all that often, it's intentional. I believe it takes a certain level of skill to play original lines note for note. Some argue that doing so is not very artistic, but most cover bands aren't really going for artistic expression anyway. Instead, they're going for a sound that the audience will recognize. I'm not ashamed to play in a cover band. In fact, I find it more satisfying than most of the original projects I've been involved in. Also, I usually add to my musical vocabulary every time I learn a new cover song. Learning cover tunes note by note has never been easier thanks to technology, but it does take patience when you're getting started.
  10. johnpbass


    Feb 18, 2008
    Glen Mills, PA
    I won't say you "have to" play a cover exactly, but IME for club gigs, listeners are impressed by how close the cover sounds to the original, especially if you're doing a "block" of a certain artist or band. On the other hand, dancers really don't care as long as the beat is on. For cover bands I've played in, we always tried to get as close as possible with parts, arrangement, and tone.
  11. Burwabit

    Burwabit Likes guitars that tune good and firm feelin women Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2011
    Lubbock, TX
    i started with a reforming cover band a week ago. in order to ramp up quickly as i learn their set list, i'm getting the general feel but not matching verbatim other than songs with signature lines (e.g. RHCPs). the guys in the band don't seem to care thus far. i plan to go back and more closely match the originals over time.
  12. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
    I'm not in a cover band, I'm in the church world where every week we have to play a new set of songs so what I say may or may not apply to your situation.

    As a band leader for the last decade I can say that it is easiest if everyone comes knowing their parts very close to the original. It allows us to quickly put the song together - the bass and drums are going to be playing the same groove, keys and guitar will be playing same chords and not stepping all over each other because it's already been handled by a producer, the song arrangement has already been charted out, etc...

    I've been in other church bands where it's much looser and everyone is allowed to play their own thing. I've found that this only works with very good musicians. Young musicians (not in age but in musical maturity) are not capable of creating parts on the spot that fit with all of the other band members in terms of groove and not stepping all over each other sonically, etc... It takes so much work to go about it that way and people get offended if you try to explain that they're interpretation isn't fitting within the overall band. It's just not a practical approach when new songs must be learned every week.

    I boil my current thoughts on it down to this... If you have strong players, give them some freedom (they'll chaffe at the restrictions and they'll likely come up with cool stuff most of the time). If you have young players insist on faithfulness to the original (as close as their skillset will allow). This will help the band sound better, over time this attention to the original parts will help them learn how to craft a part that works within a band and arrangement, and avoid many arguments and hurt feelings when speaking to band members whose parts just aren't working.

    In terms of covers, it's probably a different thing. As noted elsewhere, most bands change up their own tunes over time themselves. So I think you need to get close enough so that the song is recognizable and capture the signatures of the song. I imagine that "tribute" bands must be much more faithful to the original than a cover band.
  13. I'm in the 50/50 camp. We learn the songs as close to the original recording as possible, then tweak it as we feel is necessary or appropriate, within reason.

    By "within reason" I mean we typically won't change the "signature" parts of a song - if a particular fill or riff is significant then we try to keep it the same. This primarily applies to specific drums fills and guitar solos, but there are some songs where changing the bass would change the song entirely.

    Also, we make a conscious decision as to whether we will try to retain the original sound or completely change the song. We cover a few songs that are covers of other songs - Nonpoint's "In The Air Tonight", Black Robot's "Cocaine" are a couple of examples. In those cases we tend to take more artistic license than we would with the originals.
  14. pete17


    Oct 4, 2007
    I always try to learn the exact bass line because as a bassist I think it helps me to improve my own playing. Whether I eventually play the original bass line depends on how the song develops in rehearsal. In reality a studio recorded version can have a different bass line to the live performance, and on a fri/sat weekend gig how many people will actually recognise the original bass line anyway.
  15. ZenG


    Dec 13, 2013
    Near the fridge
    Usually the public remembers a song a certain way because that's how it was initially released and they get used to hearing it that way.

    If they hear you playing a cover where you change the parts they will think one of three things.....

    (1) You weren't good enough to play it like the original.....

    (2) Your version of the cover is better than the original

    (3) Your version of the cover is not good at all or at best mediocre

    All depends what you do with the parts in the cover......
  16. "Do you have to play it the exact same way as the original?

    No. You just have to make it sound like you're playing it the same way or pretty close to it.
  17. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    You have to get the idea and feel of what a song is trying to convey, some parts are more important than others to a song.
    So long as you have the elements of the definitive version, and that in itself is objective, then that is all that really matters.
    If you want the recorded version then get the sheet music or score and go for it.

    Remember what you are listening to is a take, one of maybe many. Maybe the bass line was constructed in what is called cut and paste today, but back in my day was a "punched in" line, as the guide line got embellished within the production of what a producer wanted.....not the band or maybe the bass player wanted.

    But in the end it is the worth you see it.....not others that matters....after all you are playing it. ;)
  18. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I believe do the best you can to sound good, however everyone knows I'm not the original artist so I do my best and if they keep asking me back, it's all good.

    I really do not worry about being exactly like the original. This is our rendition of that song.
  19. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    I feel that unless one is paying the artist royalties, every attempt should be made to keep it as close as possible to the original. Often times, people will say "it's our interpretation" when in fact, its just being played incorrectly or is riddled with "shortcuts". It's a little different when the spirit of the song is maintained through tasteful rendition as opposed to just playing it wrong, which I see quite a bit amongst the cover band set. It's a huge peeve of mine when someone I'm playing with says "Well, this is how I play it." Guess what? It's not your song.
  20. kikstand454

    kikstand454 Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2012
    I echo all the others here and add that my band currently plays everything as close to the original as possible for a three piece. The drummer and I play pretty much note for note and the Singer guitarist takes an efficient approach to his parts as needed. I sometimes add octaves or small fills behind solos that aren't in the original....but I'm just trying to fill the air like a rhythm guitar track.
    I personally try and learn the bassline verbatim and then expand or contract as needed.