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Expectations for learning cover songs?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by mattsk42, Feb 24, 2008.

  1. I'm in a country-pop band. We play only higher-energy songs from MODERN country. We seem to take forever for the band to learn anything, so I was wondering if this was normal for most bands.

    Here's the first few that were asked to be learned.

    Keith Urban - Somebody Like you
    Little Big Town - Boondocks
    Carrie Underwood - Before He Cheats
    Mayberry Rascal Flatts
    Suds in a Bucket Sara Evans
    Cowboy Take Me Away Dixie Chicks
    Rollin' - Big and Rich

    We want to do them basically exactly the same as recorded, and have stated that to members. Not so much that we play it note-for-note, but more so that we play it AS recorded. In other words, don't play an extended thing here or there, and play the same chords, number of verses, etc.

    SO.........how long should it take for people to learn their parts? And then how long to play out? (in your opinion)

    2 guitars, drums, bass, keys, singers
  2. ric1312

    ric1312 Banned

    Apr 16, 2006
    chicago, IL.
    It depends on the skill of the players. My guitar player can learn most songs by ear in one sitting, so can the drummer. I lag behind because I've only been playing bass a couple of years and have to cheat with tabs. (and I have to work out singing them and playing bass at the same time) Then theres getting all the players to play together.

    we have like 50 originals that are good, but it takes us forever to get covers down because no one ever does there homework. Not a big deal though because we are mainly an original act and just learn enough covers so we can fill up half of the set with them.

    I wouldn't agonize over sounding exactly like the recording, even the artists who wrote the song don't live. As long as you can pull it off and it sounds good, it's good enough.
  3. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    If everyone shows up knowing their part, a decent band should be able to get 2 or 3 songs together in a couple hours of rehearsal. This is assuming that everyone really knows how to play their instrument, can take stuff off a record and is able to work within a band context.
  4. tycobb73


    Jul 23, 2006
    Grand Rapids MI
    Requiring people to learn exactly as recored will take longer. No one will know if the bass line isn't exact, same for the guitar solo. We all have day jobs so this is a hobby for us. When we were putting our first 40 songs together, we went at 5 a week. Now that we have a night's worth then some we slow it down to 1 a week.
  5. mcm


    Oct 2, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    5 to 7 practices.
  6. I'd say the band should have those bands down cold in about three practices. I'm basing this on personal experience. You tell them to learn one week, next week it's rough, next week it's better, and by the third practice the song should be gig ready.
  7. lawsonman


    Dec 19, 2005
    NW IL
    We just broke in a new keyboard player and we had 51 songs down good in 4 (5 hour) practices.It just depends on the talent level of everyone involved.
  8. IanStephenson

    IanStephenson UnRegistered User

    Apr 8, 2006
    Depends on the preasure...

    For a dep gig, I'd have then all learnt in a couple of days, arrange a casual run through and be good to go for the weekend.

    For my own band I wouldn't devote as much time to do the home-work, so we'd probably knock them off at one or two a week if we needed to add them to the set, but we're lazy - we've got a full set, so just add songs in as need be (no where near as quick as we should).

  9. nsmar4211


    Nov 11, 2007
    Hey we do Before he Cheats :). As an example, took us one two hour practice devoted mostly to it, and part of another cleaning it up (my fault...sigh) to get it down.

    Totally depends on the skill level of the players involved. My group does a song a week now that we have a full gigs material and now that my brain is remembering faster. But.... when I first came in they had already done gigs so in three weeks I learned like 15 songs to learn what they already knew. Some practices we can do two new songs (new to everyone) if they're easy and I can hear the bass lines in em. But everyone that can't learn by ear has to do their homework! In my group I'm the slowest, and I know it-but that means I go pull tabs and videos and lyric sheets and whatever else I need to know it and sometimes don't get enough sleep :oops:.

    Let me tell you, there's nothing like having a scheduled gig to get everyone rolling on learning material....... but 7 songs wouldn't get you a gig here. Could you maybe play a friends party in say, two months? See how fast everyone goes by then? If it's not playable in two months.....and you're frustrated, you might be in the wrong skill set of players. Or they might not be motivated.
  10. Hey, cool, thanks for the response. By the way, I still have trouble with the thing leading up to the 2nd chorus.

    I should state that our band has all agreed to be VERY dedicated and make this BETTER than just a "fun" or "bar" band, and that we're trying to be VERY professional and get high paying stuff. Also, the current members have had this going for them.

    1. Been with the band for about a month and a half or more.
    2. Had a list of all the songs for that time.
    3. Had CD's with all of the songs on them that we're doing.
    4. Only been required to learn 20 total over those close to 2 months.
    5. We practice 3 times a week for at least 2 hours a piece, and......
    6. We correct their chord sheets and help them with any parts that are missed.

    So is it unrealistic to say that they should at least have 10 songs TOTALLY down and learned (memorized) by now on their own? (this does not include the lead player, just rhythm and drums and some singing)

    It just seems to me that if I can do them after only playing bass for a year or so, and the lead guy and keys get them that the others are lagging. But if every band takes this long, then I'm wrong. I'm just curious to see if we're "normal" or slow or really slow.
  11. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I have an article that's 3/4 written on rehearsing, for cover bands, that I need to finish and post. Perhaps it might be helpful.

    Anyway, given what you're saying here, I would say:

    I'm hearing what you're saying about experience. So, what I'm going to say is for people who are a little more pro, but you can adjust this a little bit for where you think you're at. Again, my thinking is centered around people who have more experience.

    Giving everybody CDs is a great start. If I'm doing a cover band, and let's say I want to start with 30 songs, (although if you're gigging at more than just bars, it would help to have a lot more tunes, but anyway, 20-30 is a very good start), I'm going to give everybody a CD with the songs. Then, I'm usually thinking about 5-8 songs per week, depending upon the schedule of the band and it's members. Now, your practice schedule is pretty intense. I just simply don't believe that that much "practice" is necessary. But the word I have in quotes there is very important. If you're calling it practice, you're still on some level thinking of it as practice. It's not. It's rehearsal. If you choose, let's say 5 songs for the week, it is my opinion that one rehearsal is all that's needed that week. Now, I understand that plenty of people like frequent band "practices" because it's a social thing. That's all well and good. But often, for a band that wants to be pro, that leads to frustration. It is still highly possible to have fun, productive rehearsals that are once per week. In fact, it is my opinion that you'll get more accomplished. Everybody should be coming to rehearsal knowing the song cold against the recording. They should know how many verses until the bridge, how many choruses before it's over, etc., without a chord chart. Why? You need to be reacting to each other sonically and visually. If everybody is buried in a chord chart, (there are exceptions, certainly amongst jazz musicians and classical musicians), people are generally not listening. Rehearsal is to tidy up the beginning, the overall tightness, the finish of the songs, performance aspects, and that sort of thing. If there is one thing that rehearsal is absolutely, positively, in no way shape or form about, it's individuals learning their parts. Could you imagine if actors showed up on sets without knowing their lines? (Which, I'm sure happens). There will be goofs and blunders and wrong notes, but that's what you're fixing in rehearsal.

    Wait ... sorry, I'm going on a rant. What am I on about?

    So, actually, I think that your frequent rehearsal schedule is actually hindering your progress.

    So, I'm saying about 5-8 songs per week, (with more at the beginning, then it will slow down over time as the song list grows).

    So, after that rant, was I even helpful?
  12. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Well said. Practice on your time, not mine. Do your homework and have your **** in one sock for rehearsal. 3-5 new tunes a week is a reasonable goal for guys with day jobs. If you've got a good set of musicians who communicate well, rehearsals become pretty much unnecessary for doing covers, esp if you're gigging weekly. Just come prepared to play the frickin' song. IMO, anything more than one rehearsal per week is a big, fat waste of everyone's time.

    My biggest pet peeve are guys (usually geetar players) who will have their solo down note for note, but not the structure. No one is going to notice if you play an 80% solution for the solo, they will damn sure notice if you forget an entire verse. :mad:
  13. Yeah, I appreciate the "rant", "rant" more if you can.

    I kind of think the exact same thing. I'm all for helping people, but I have never experienced a band where we have to cue the drummer on breaks, teach the guitar guy the chords (even though I don't and have never played guitar), and where they both have to read off of a cheat sheet after a full 3 weeks + of supposedly "learning" the song.

    Let me know if I'm off in the thinking, but are these songs really that hard for drums/guitar? I've never thought they were overly difficult both to play or memorize, but they both say how there's "a lot going on" or "there's a funky beat" in multiple of these songs. I listed every single one that we're supposed to learn at this point. No more, no less.
  14. nsmar4211


    Nov 11, 2007
    "Hey, cool, thanks for the response. By the way, I still have trouble with the thing leading up to the 2nd chorus"
    We don't play everything note for note so I revamped that.. the whole song is around the penatonic minor (1 34 1 34 1 3, G as the root) so I just do a walkdown fill on that and call it a day :). Matter of fact my guitar player tries to steal my walkdown!:ninja:

    Given the list of criteria, maybe you're just with a lower skill set. than you're happy with. That's a LOT of practicing! My group practices once a week, me n the singer did an extra practice a week for the first few... three times a week? wow.......

    Errr.... if the drummer can't at least get through songs... I'd be a bit concerned about him. Most drum parts are *not* that complicated, espically if you don't want every little fill note for note and you're not doing any polyrhythmic stuff. I was originally a drummer so I can say this :bassist: I could understand the singer dropping a line or two hear or there... but basic song structure everyone should have.

    I'd give it at least another month.......see how it goes. Perhaps you're practicing too much and everyone is burning out? Maybe? Unless you have another group ready to gig right now... see if the rest catch up. Perhaps they have a different learning style that's not being addressed? :help:I.e. I'm a visual person and my guitar is a learn by ear person....I have to make him do a lick slowly so I can see it or write it down, but giving him tab/music slows him up so I have to play him something...but we know this and accomodate for it when learning new stuff....
  15. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Me too--within reason. I've been in a couple of situations where I've essentially been giving lessons. It's kind of the trade-off I have to make for having a pretty wacky schedule--sometimes I gotta play with whoever I can get. I don't mind working with guys with "potential" as long as they're putting in the shed time, and am proud to have been able to grow some darn fine players. But if they're not pulling their weight, I'm gone. Life's too short to screw around with guys who aren't willing to work.

    I can't give advice on the songs listed because I don't know them (probably because I would rather eat my own vomit than play country). ;) I prefer playing in a 3-piece so song choice is important, but with your instrumentation you guys should be able to cover pretty much everything. I've never been a band whore, but I have played the "shape up or I ship out" card. Don't be afraid to make it known you'll walk if it's not working out. You'll find something else faster than they'll find another bass player. :cool:
  16. Our band try to follow this philosophy too. I say try because the guitarist who constantly quotes "do them as recorded" is usually the one changing things :)

    As for timlines when learning new stuff we generally all agree to work on the same 2 or 3 songs a week and we usually polish at least one off a night, sometimes more. Some songs we've nailed after playing it first time...to my surprise "Stuck in the middle" by Steelers Wheels was the first song we nailed in this manner.

    And other we've struggled polishing over a couple of weeks.
  17. IanStephenson

    IanStephenson UnRegistered User

    Apr 8, 2006
    I'd also agree you're rehersing too much.

    If I'm rehersing three nights a week, that doesn't leave a lot of other nights to actually do my homework. Most of the guys are probably thinking - "I've worked on band three nights of the week - I've done my band commitment, and need the other nights for the rest of my life: Family, work, other friends?"

    My time is tight, and if I was rehersing three nights, I'd never have any time to learn new songs. Rehearse once a week, spend two nights at home learning the stuff.

    If some of the guys need help/coaching then go round to their house once a week, and have a session with just the two of you working through the parts.

  18. I am starting to encounter the same thing. The band I just joined practices twice a week. It's almost like there's not enough time to learn all these new songs unless I'm practicing every single day between practice for a couple hours. That doesn't sound like a lot, but between work, family, household chores, it is.

    Oh well...just a couple more weeks of this, then we'll be gigging out soon. It definitely helps when a band has a target date to get out, IMO.
  19. We rehearse for 2 or 3 hours on Saturday afternoon on week ends when we don't perform. Like others have said, except for the occasional "What note are you playing there?" or "It might sound better if..." comments, we pretty much just run through new songs. There are some exceptions, especially when tight harmony singing is required. (When Will I Be Loved is an example). We are a little weak in that area and always have problems with who sings what. Last Saturday we picked up Who Knew. It took 45 minutes, and that was only because my A string broke and kept dropping to Ab and I didn't notice it. Since I am always in tune ususally, there was some discussion about what was supposed to be played until I realized that I was way out of tune.

    Strange string failure. It would tune up to A, but then after a few minutes drop back to Ab and stay there. Must be broken inside is all I can figure.
  20. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Only you can say how quickly your cover band will pick up tunes. I've been in bands when I was starting out that moved so slowly that we threatened to break up before we had 4 sets worth of material.

    On the other side of the coin, one of my current cover bands has 80+ tunes after four rehearsals, and we'll often play songs cold on-the-spot when we get requests (sometimes tunes I've never heard before, much less played).

    Point is there's no gain in worrying about how quickly *other* bands get their sets together. How quickly your band will be ready to ride depends on the players' current abilities, study habits , and commitment. If you're band is slow because of player ability, changing the goals and rehearsal habits can help of lot. If the problem is some combination involving commitment (folks are doing pretty much all they're willing to already), then what you've got is what you'll get.

    If you're already being smart about practice vs. rehearsal* but commitment is a problem, about all you can do (short of replacing players) is start by seeding the set list with a bunch of dead-easy songs that you play w/out trouble. Having a couple sets of those might motivate the drummer and guitarist to work a little harder on more advanced tunes to replace the starter tunes.

    *That said, part of the problem is that 3 weekly rehearsals are probably making the other guys feel they're as fully committed to the band as they can be.

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