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How worthwhile is note-for-note duplication?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by CJK84, May 17, 2005.

  1. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    I play generally older mainstream music in a cover band.

    I like playing "jam" songs like Blue Suede Shoes, Johnnny B. Goode in which everybody plays whatever he feels is appropriate. It's fun to create (and regularly experiment/change) your own part.

    On other songs (perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of them), however, I really like to work my butt off and figure out and imitate exactly what the bassist is playing on the recording. I also usually figure out all vocal harmonies (since I also sing) and drum parts too.

    I feel that this work (which is sometimes a ton of work) has been of enormous benefit to me. My "vocabularly" has increased a lot over the years and now I can usually pick out details quickly.

    Problem is, my bandmates put only modest emphasis on critically listening to recorded parts and sometimes don't even attempt to emulate recorded parts that I feel are worthwhile.

    Thus, imo, rather than capturing the cool, unique qualities of some of the songs and providing lots of interesting contrast throughout the night, we tend to sound a little homogenized.

    I might add that not all of our songs are early rockers. We play a few blues tunes as well as some 80s and 90s rock and modern country as well.

    Any other cover band guys or gals feel like I do?
  2. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    I strive to get covers down note for note and insist my bandmates do the same. One you've got everything just like it was written THEN you can back off certain parts to give things your own feel while leaving the important parts intact.

    Nothing screams "generic amateur band" to me like a cover song where they leave out the cool, hard or subtle parts.
  3. Steve


    Aug 10, 2001
    I do it frequently and it is a valid learning method. It is limited by what the guys around you do.

    For example everyones most hated song Mustang Sally when played note for note is extreamly cool. 3 piece rhythm section between bass, drums and a guitar line all playing something different that is VERY uncomfortable for each player but when played together sound very cool.

    When I'm forced to play that tune now, the bands version of that song is so far away from reality that the stock bassline doesn't even work anymore.

    The rhythm section work in brown eyed girl is very cool and a world class example of playing behind the beat. NOBODY plays that song "Right"
  4. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH

    Odd that you mention Brown Eyed Girl. Many bands play that song significantly different than the recording - and miss out on an opportunity to bring contrast to their performance.

    I'm proud to have the recorded bass guitar line down nearly exactly. I change the bass "lead" in the middle (honestly, I could use some work on jazzing this part up a bit more).

    Anyway, the basic drum beat throughout most of the song features an unusual kick pattern of 1, 2-1/2, and 4-1/2 I believe.

    Although I've mentioned/suggested it many times to various drummers I've played with, not one of them will play this beat, choosing instead to insert an add'l kick at 3-1/2 to make it more comfortable/natural for them.

    I guess it's not a huge deal, (I've been told, "It's only Brown Eyed Girl") but to me it's an example in which a band member sort of drops the ball when it comes to capturing the unique, distinct sound of a song and leaves the listener feeling like one song kind of blends into the next.
  5. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    I'm with you as I like to learn stuff note for note. For the learning, if you stretch yoruself to play exactly what's on record, there is usually a learning experience in getting inside the head of the recording bassist and/or the producer.

    The homogenous sound has been mentioned before. Bands who do not try to emulate the record sound too much the same song to song.

    For a great example of this, see the movie "The Last Waltz" starring "The Band". As they back up different guests vocalists (ie. Van Morrision, Bob Dylan, and many more) it's amazing how their sound changes dramatically to support the spotlighted vocalist.
  6. DaftCat


    Jul 26, 2004
    Medicine Hat

    Yep yep!

    Also, I learned that if your bandmates can NOT handle constructive criticism(regarding the OP thread) you will have some problems arise. I value what my bandmates advise me.
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Not to disagree with anyone-
    Too many times I have heard Live versions by 'cover' bands that smoked the records(I used to say you haven't heard "The Bird" by The Time, "Sussudio" by Phil Collins, "This Is My Night" by Chaka Khan until you heard Oteil play 'em when he gigged around here in a bar band).
    ...sometimes, even the real artist comes through in a Live setting. Madonna's "Fever" on SNL blew away the record(I know 'cause I ran out & bought the record the very next day & was crushed).

    My guess is this-
    Maybe a certain band(cover/'real' thing)learned & played the parts as they were recorded...over time, though, embellishing & 'in the moment' creating/jamming took over.
    I recall reading how REM's Mike Mills was disappointed that "the album" would preceed "the tour"; he mentioned how he used "the tour" to hone his bassline & how the bass would finally be 'right' by tour's end. Or sumthin like that.

    About 'generic amateur band'-
    How's this-
    I have a friend that's been gigging with a certain New Country artist...everytime I see them on TV doing one og the hits, it's the same. I mean, c'mon...roughly ten years of doing it the exact same way? That's not generic?
  8. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    I try to learn the songs note for note since I am still learning. I can easily pick out something that will work, but it is the subtleties
    I am trying to learn.

    Exactly the same thing happened to me. Had to learn Mustang Sally for two bands at the same time. Learned it. Go to first band, same as bikertrash, song is so far from the feel of the original I have to throw the original line away. Just didn't work.

    Go to the second band practice. "We are playing it in B". I learned it in C. So much for the cool dropping to open E and ascending. Plus, we leave out the big pause at the end of the chorus :rollno:
  9. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I try to get the recorded part note for note. Then I may experiment a littel, but there are some licks or grooves that have to be there.
  10. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH

    I agree with you about the benefits of diverging from the recording at times.

    Sometimes a song sounds great on the studio cut, but a note-for-note approach doesn't translate well in a live setting.

    And it can be fun to embellish - to include your own artistic contribution. When a musician with a mature, vast knowledge of music combines the best of the recording and the best of his own skills, the result can surpass the recording and make for a fun playing experience.

    But I've often played with people who haven't reached the mature point. They don't embellish songs in an additive way - instead they "dumb down" the song and regularly remain in a limited comfort zone that too often features the same licks over and over, creating boredom for the audience and fellow bandmates.

    I guess I'm talking about people with limited skills who feel that it's ok to ignore the recording even though they don't yet have the skill to replace the studio parts with mature lines of their own.
  11. zac2944


    Dec 28, 2004
    Rochester, NY
    This is a good point. Changing a tune because you just can't get the right sound is very amature.

    I play in a funk band and often rearrange popular 80's pop tunes into insturmental funk tunes. It is never note for note, but it is not our intention to sound like the album.
  12. Rope


    May 27, 2003
    Essexville, MI
    I've got a slight variation on what the others are saying. I'd say to start out coming as close the the orginal as you can while still playing with style and feel. It is much better to lay down a bass line that is a little bit off off the original, the still swings / rocks / cooks / sings with the same intent of the original. As as aspiring player, still learning your role, this will do you a lot more good over time than playing stilted, technically correct methods.

    This does not mean that you should not try to nail youjr parts. It also does not give you the right to mutilate a tune that is beyond your reach. With work, you will eventually be able to master any number of playing challenges presented as a cover artist. In the meantime feel free to be musical.
  13. If you can't play what you hear on the original recording, how can you play what you hear in your head? How are you ever going to steal licks from players you hear?

    Assuming you're picking good songs to learn that have cool parts, why wouldn't you want to learn them?

    I think you should learn the parts first, then do what you want with it. Especially if the original part is difficult. Its good experience.

    Doing your own thing from the start has you doing what comes naturally for you. You don't learn that way. Doing the original part takes you in different directions, into areas that are difficult and unfamiliar. You emerge a better player.

    I don't care what you do live. Lots of live recordings show they do different stuff live then they did in the studio, nothing wrong with that. You should still be able to play the original before you "jazz it up" into something else. That's how you learn different styles, perspectives.

  14. dhclark76


    Mar 26, 2005
    but to be honest, I'm not good enough that this usually happens.

    As has been mentioned, learning note for note is a good way to really push yourself to be a better player, but it is also a way to become a really good listener. I mean, think of how challenging it can be to pick out a bass line in some really heavy mixes and the concentration that this can take sometimes. Being a better listener can't help but make you a more concientious player.

    Another reason that I like note for note, though, is that I think it shows a lot of respect for the original artist. Whether the line is really simple or really complex, it shows a certain appreciation and respect that is always appropriate when borrowing from someone else's work. Sometimes, I've listened to bass players (usually younger) who feel the need to spruce or jazz up, or really trick out a simple bass line. Sometimes this bothers me, because some players who do this seem to be expressing the thought that the original bass line is too simple, or beneath them. It also gives the impression that demonstrating (or showing off) the bass players ability is more important than the song or original music and that isn't a humble attitude IMO. Now I know this isn't always true, but you can often tell when this is the case.

    On the other hand, there are lots of songs that can be creatively arranged and have just as significant an impact. Consequently, I think that the bottom line is that both you and your audience need to feel comfortable with what is happening musically. Because of that, I also think that it's most important to remember how meaningful many of these songs often are to the audience. If you play something that the audience may have a vested emotional interest in, they are going to demand that you show proper respect. In the end, if both you and the audience feel that you've presented the music with integrity, that's a win-win. I think that means that sometimes a number deserves and maybe even demands a note by note rendering, and other times a number invites and even encourages some artistic license. Of course the trick is determining when to take what approach.

    So, FWIW that's my 2+ cents! :)

  15. rockindoc

    rockindoc Daily Lama

    Jan 26, 2002
    Bonham, Tx
    Well said, CJK84.

    I'm always searching for "the better cover bassline". The one that, as you say, surpasses the original. And usually it's not that hard to find it.

    When we play covers, we have the advantage of having heard the song hundreds of times. We know the song inside & out, so we OUGHT to be able to improve on the bassline. We know exactly how the melody and the rhythm and the guitar solo sounds, and we have the luxury of experimenting with different basslines that complement them even better than the original.

    The studio bassist may have only heard the song once or twice before he/she laid down the bassline. (and I have great respect for these players who can construct a great line on such short notice). Or as JimK said, when the album precedes the tour, the bassline on the recording may be "premature".

    So, to learn it note for note is fine & dandy, but don't pass up the artistic opportunity to take it to another level.
  16. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I learnt around 40 soul, disco and funk songs for a function band I joined recently. To start with I had to get up to speed of the back of 3 or 4 rehearsals, which isnt hard to do if you have to time to put in at home, but they only gave me the CD two weeks before twe started audition and I was moving house at the time, so was pushed for time :eyebrow:

    So I noted chords and learnt key grooves. We did our first gig and I just kept my note book handy. Then I went back and actually transcribed all the important basslines from the key sections. This helps me remember them and is generally good practice.

    Generally speaking, I think as long as you get all the key parts, the odd fill different from the record doesnt matter. However, even the most simple, straight forward bass line is still part of the song and it needs to be right if you are playing someone elses material. The other aspect is that if you are playing for money at somebody's wedding, they are paynig to hear a bunch of great tunes they know played well, not a bunch of my chops.

    The final stage for me is listening to the orignals over and over in the car and picking up on the little nuances by ear.

    I have a gig tonight too, for a local 9 piece originals jazz-funk band. They are brilliant. Simple material, played very well. I've had to learn about 8 songs, straight forward enough material, but with these guys it's the pushes, pulls and phrasing that matters - it's gotta be tight and that aint easy when it's unfamiliar material. We've had two rehearsals, neither of which were very long or with complete band, but it should be good fun :)

    As a bit of a plug, you can hear their latest recordings here - well worth the download!

  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I'm not digging at you personally, but I think it's a bit arrogant to think that you can create a bass line 'better' than the original recoreded version.
    Obvioulsy the same old caveats apply to 'better' and 'worse', but generally speaking the guys that recorded those bass lines played them like that for a reason, it's a song and is therefore is all about context. You werent there, you didnt record the original song so I really dont think it's valid to say "I can make that bass line better"... busier maybe ;)
  18. Personally, I'm not very interested in note-for-note duplication, unless either (1) that's what I'm being paid to do or (2) the part is so cool or so essential to the song that you don't really want to play anything else.

    I think people tend to confuse the record with the song. My main feeling is that when I play a cover tune, I'm not playing the *record*, I'm playing the *song*. A good song can generally be played in several different ways. Therre's nothing sacred about any particular version of a song that makes it the only way to play the song. A recorded performance is just one version of the song; it's not the song itself. Given the choice, I'd rather do something of my own with a song, however modest. Before anybody jumps up and says, what about those gigs where the audience expects you to sound like the record, note that I said "given the choice." Well, if your gig demands that you play more or less note for note, then that's what you do, or walk away from the gig. Or if you really just want to play the tune like the record, then that's what you do. Nothing wrong with that at all if it's what you want to do.

    The thing to remember IMO is that there's nothing inherently better or more authentic or truer or more respectful about a note-for-note approach; it's just one way of addressing the material. In fact, every single cover I've ever heard that was memorable at all has been *significantly* different from the original or previous recording.
  19. Here's where you're off base, I think. A bass line is *not* necessarily part of the song. It's part of a particular *recording* of the song, a particular version, which is not the same thing. Because so many bands write their own stuff, we tend to forget the elementary concept that a song is not the same as any specific performance of it, any more than a play is the same as any particular staging of it. You do not have to copy the parts on a recording to play a song legitimately, any more than you have to copy the costumes and staging and blocking and verbal phrasing of the original production of "Hamlet" to do that play legitimately. However, as you astutely note, you may want to cop all the parts for other reasons (audience preference, bandleader directives, your personal preference, money).
  20. rockindoc

    rockindoc Daily Lama

    Jan 26, 2002
    Bonham, Tx
    There are lots of basslines that I can't even get close to, so I didn't mean to sound arrogant. No offense taken, though. And you're right..."better" to my ears may be "worse" to another's. I do play some covers note for note, as my ability allows.

    I'm just saying that because we have heard the recording so many times, we are probably MORE familiar with the nuances of the song than the studio musician was when he put down the track. We've had YEARS to listen to the song; he/she only had a few hours or days. Would you agree that at least we have the opportunity to tweak it and maybe improve it? Again, the studio guys amaze me. But I bet they sometimes listen to the song and think "I wish I had done that part a little differently" or "if I'd known the lead player was gonna do that lick, I would have played THIS instead".

    Just my thoughts.

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