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Learning covers note for note

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, May 3, 2015.


  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I believe this thread will have some serious potential :).

    First, I believe everyone should learn covers note for note. Not always, but at least some of the time. For a lot of reasons I'll state below, or later in the thread. And probably not the reasons you'd expect.

    Second, I believe that people come up with lots of excellent reasons for NOT learning songs note for note, but in actuality there are very few. Maybe even only 2 :). Too many songs to learn in too short a period of time, or the band intentionally does their own rendition of the song and it sounds nothing like the original. Most other reasons are IMO nothing more than excuses for either being too lazy to learn it note for note, or not having the ability to do so. Which is fine, but not fine if you cover the truth of that up with a lie. For some playing music is also just a hobby, something fun to do with friends on the weekend... and well, hey, nothing at all wrong with that, either.

    Would like to discuss that, and if it's possible to get 2 things going in one thread I'd like to ask the following of people who have learned lots of covers note for note.

    What songs have been the simplest, yet most difficult? I'm learning a bunch of tunes for a band that doesn't rehearse (my dream come true), and I'm noticing that some songs are simple technically, yet remembering them note for takes me a week, sometimes even more. And that's coming from someone who has in the past learned entire setlists in a couple of days.

    The 3 easy/difficult songs topping my list right now are:

    Red Barchetta
    Rock and Roll Band (Boston)
    Fairies Wear Boots

    Frustrating, but worth the feeling of accomplishment. For me, anyhow.
     
    fraublugher likes this.
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    Joe is correct, there are lots of reasons given why not to do covers note for note and by and large I'm thinking he's also correct that a good number of those reasons are smoke screens for laziness and lower abilities.

    That said, I think a lot of band should give some time to expanding the arrangements. One of the major differences between jazz and rock is that the expression of rock is often the recorded version, whereas jazz is more about a lead sheet or concept of the song. It's difficult to put that into words, but a little trip into pop music history and you'll find that up to the 50's bands had there own arrangement of popular songs. This was very common in the 30's and 40's. That kind of originality was lost as the recording industry began to take over the music business.

    But the reason for doing songs in a different way should always be to bring something new to the table. Compare:





    As creative artists we should always be aware of the danger of thinking things are perfect the way we find them.
     
  3. JdoubleH

    JdoubleH Supporting Member

    Jul 10, 2008
    Ellerslie, Georgia
    The way I see it is this. #1 What's the audience expect to hear? For a cover band, I believe finding the essence and nailing the hooks is what matters. For most songs, only a bass player is likely to notice if I don't play something note for note, and that is only if he/ she knows it note for note. I need to get it close for notes and dead on for feel. #2 What do my band mates need to hear to play a given song their best?

    The band leader of my cover band is very particular about getting everything right. For him, good enough isn't. But that doesn't always mean note for note. It's more like our starting point and the reference standard.

    When learning, I try to pay close attention to what the original player did and understand it. Key riffs or embellishments act as place holders and help me remember the arrangement, and I'll try to hit those. But riffing, "synthesizing" or "paraphrasing" when I'm playing it is what really wires a song into my brain.

    My hardest songs to remember tend to be the ones I just can't get into, or ones where I have difficulty counting and where the changes are. The timing of the changes on Cut the Cake and Midnight Train to Georgia gave me fits. I struggled a bit with Barracuda until I found soloed tracks on YouTube. The bass line in the verse isn't anything like what I was hearing in the full album version. It's quarter notes up an octave. We also do a bunch of Steely Dan covers which can also be a challenge to learn.
     
    Alik, kcandme, Jhengsman and 7 others like this.
  4. elgecko

    elgecko

    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    The best time to NOT play a song note for note is when the original line itself was clearly improvised.

    Moondance is a great example. I've never once played the recorded line because as far as walking bass lines go, it's really crappy!

     
    BearofBass likes this.
  5. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather Supporting Member

    I 'always' learn songs note for note, if at all possible. If the band wants to change arrangements, it makes it much easier for me. I just can't halfass learn a song. Just can't do it.
     
  6. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I agree on the moondance thing. Some improvised songs would be insane to learn note for note, but I've also learned that some things I at first thought were improvised, absolutely aren't. Fairies Wear Boots is a perfect example, as is We Won't Get Fooled Again.
     
  7. SamJ

    SamJ Founder - Fender MIA Club

    Apr 22, 2006
    PDX / SFO / HNL
    But then you go to a rock concert, and 50% of the time, the band playing their own song does it differently.... go figure.
     
  8. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    In Faeries Wear Boots, Geezer and Tony have a great counter melody going, I especially love the intro. Great piece that shouldn't be tinkered with IMHO.

    I agree with @Joe Nerve, covers should always be played as true to the original as possible, except when performing an alternate arrangement.

    The only difference of opinion I have is that the lack of ability to do it is a reason, not an excuse. It's better to simplify than hit clams or lose the groove.
     
    Alik, kcandme and FlatwoundFunk like this.
  9. Low Commotion

    Low Commotion Supporting Member

    Dec 31, 2007
    Ontario
    I'm a weekend warrior, but I do get to play out once in awhile since I play in two groups.

    For the band that I play in that plays classic rock / R&B, the majority of the time I will learn the song note for note. However, I will deviate a little when I play the song, but I will maintain the feel of the song. If we were a tribute band, then I would play note for note. But we're not and no one has ever come up to me after a song was done and tell me that I didn't play it exactly right. I'm sure nobody even noticed.

    When I first learned Soul Man that was done by The Blues Brothers, I learned Duck's bass line note for note. It took a few days to learn it but it took a long time to memorize it. I look back and can't figure out why, because it's not that difficult of a song, just a key change at the end. I still don't deviate much on this song.

    Many years ago I learned Mary Had a Little Lamb as covered by SRV. I learned that one note for note. That song took me awhile to learn, and I did have the tab and score for this one. During one of the first times that our band played it at an outing, I had a brain fart and forgot where I was in the song. Normally, I could hear if we were in a verse or chorus and keep going, but because I memorized the song note for note, I struggled for a few seconds (which seemed like an eternity) when I lost my place. Kind of like reciting your ABC's; you can't just pick up where you thought you left off. I then finished the song just playing a simple walking bass line. After that incident, I played the bass line in the same feel of the song, a lot of what Tommy Shannon plays, but not always note for note. I was a relatively newer player at the time, so I didn't fully understand what exactly I was playing. In other words, I was playing a passage of notes and not really paying attention to the chord progression.

    I like to learn songs note for note because I find it interesting to learn what other bass players are playing; how they play, their note selection and patterns that they use. I'll even pay attention to how I play those songs - the note attack (using tip of finger or along the top of the finger), how long a note rings out and even how loud I play a note.

    The other band that I play with play more rockin' blues songs that are covered by more than one group. So there always isn't one specific way to play a song. And my band mates give me the latitude to play what I want. That gives me some artistic liberties. But I still play pretty darn close to an original version.

    I agree with Charlie Monroe about the lack of ability. That's what held me back in the past. I have played a simplified version of the original so I wouldn't struggle playing through a song.
     
    kcandme and R&B like this.
  10. So how does that work when you're asked to play backup for others (some folks you've never even met before) at open mics, jams, or when someone in the audience asks the band you happen to be playing with that night to play a request? Literally thousands of songs (most that are a very distant memory) that you must be able to play credibly, and the band/ensemble must have a tight sound or risk embarrassment. Do you just refuse to play?

    How many songs can you remember note for note, including it's finer nuances and expressiveness? 30, 50, 100? I suppose I can do 30 or so that way, but my mind says that some of the notes played by the originals sound like crap, and so I eventually fix them.
    Note for note might be required if you're playing in a tribute band, or expected to do covers. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't let that get in the way of knowing how to play any piece of music you've heard in the past, and do it in front of, or for anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

    I know a piano player that has to play note for note with the original. A grade 10 RCM (Canada). Musically he's pretty useless in a general sense but ok when he has the music in front of him, or practised that piece endlessly. Mechanical to the end, the poor bugger has no sense of musical expression and couldn't improvise (a very important ability) to save his soul.
     
    Arvin, Jim Nazium and FlatwoundFunk like this.
  11. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Quickfix, I think you need to re-read my OP.

    When you have no choice, of course you should do your best to play whatever people want you to play, however you can possibly pull it off. And there's a lot more that goes into a band sounding great than playing note for note. As for playing with people you've never met before, I've done that lots of times - and it's easiest and sounds best when the group IS playing everything note for not. Should I find they're not, I of course will compensate, as will anyone who's got experience doing this.

    To expand a little on my first post, I don't think everyone should play every cover they do note for note. I'd be lying if I said I do that. But the goal is always for me to first learn it that way, and then loosen up a bit after I've played it with whatever band I'm playing it with a bunch of times.

    The reason I think everyone SHOULD make note for note the goal is first, it's excellent practice for the ears, as well as for discipline. I believe it's made me a much more accurate bass player, and even helped my memory. Second, it opens me up to styles and feels that are completely alien to me. I learned about 50 Zep tunes over the course of 3 years, and I can't even begin to tell you how much that worked it's way into my own style. Before that I was a RHCP freak. Learned tons of Chili Peppers, so much so that the influence was getting pretty obvious in my playing (see vid in my sig). Diving into the exact styles of different bassists breaks it up for me, and helps me to expand. I especially like trying to not only play the notes, but really hone in on the feel.

    Another simple song technically (and even arrangement wise) that I really got a kick out of learning these past couple of weeks is Pink Floyd's Time. Playing the notes any beginning bass player can do. Copping the feel and make it sound the way Roger Waters recorded it, is a different story. One I wasn't really aware of until I dove in and really worked at nailing it. Worth a close listen for those who never gave it that (me, before this band :))... starts at 2:28:

     
    Double E likes this.
  12. Rayjay

    Rayjay If that’s even my real name.. Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2014
    Lahaina, Maui, HI
    My personal take is to either base your arrangement on a recording (be it live or another band covering it or whatever...you didn't write it so it's based on something) OR come up with an arrangement that either sounds AS GOOD or at least acceptable.

    Most bands deal with winging it and don't won't out the kinks. That makes my ears sore.

    I usually change some things, but only after having a full understanding of what the original did. Sometimes there are improvements that can be make on the original.

    For example, no need to learn all 13 guitar tracks on Ten Years Gone. One guitarist can paraphrase it onto one part.

    No rehearsals throws a left handed monkey wrench into the mix. Then people either need to stick closely to the origional or be really good musicians talented enough to have the business to change things and make musical sense doing it.

    For example, listen to how Hendrix covered songs like Like A Rolling Stone. Not like the original at all but worthy of public performance (to say the least)
     
  13. Rayjay

    Rayjay If that’s even my real name.. Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2014
    Lahaina, Maui, HI
    Another note:

    Copping the FEEL of a song, or having a cohesive feel playing said song >>>> playing it perfectly note for note but not gelling
     
  14. Two reasons to not learn songs note for note: 1) chances are your band does not have the exact same instrumentation as was used on the recording, and 2) the original artists rarely perform their songs exactly as they were recorded, so why should you? For good measure, experimentation is half the fun.
     
  15. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    I always learn note for note unless it is a complete revamp. But still ... checking on YouTube I hear loud and clear that note for note for someone isn't exactly the same for someone else ... some people hear different thing ... so who's right ? I find this to be a problem.

    I'm much better Learning someone else music through official sheet music but it is hard to find or impossible in many cases.

    I remember Marcus Miller said in a BP mag that one way to see if you ears are good is to have the official sheet music and then try to get it by ear, then compare both version.

    But still, it looks like hearing isn't 100% sure way to really have the right note.

    I guess we could say the is the reason #3 as some recording do everything to make sure we can't deceipher the bass at all.
     
  16. Sure.
     
  17. jamro217

    jamro217 Supporting Member

    How can you tell the difference between a song that was labored over and re-recorded hundreds of times just to get it perfect, and one that was just sketched out and played once? To learn a one shot recorded song note for note is pointless. These are the ones the bands fool around with live. Sometimes you can't even recognize them until they sing the chorus. Capture the spirit of the song and make it sound close enough to recognize. Imagine hearing somebody cover your song and hear the mistakes that made you cringe faithfully duplicated.
     
    Stealth Fighter and quickfix like this.
  18. BassFishingInAmerica

    BassFishingInAmerica

    Jul 24, 2014
    There are other reasons for not learning a song note for note, especially when no one other than a musician would notice or even care. I've been playing long enough to recognize what those songs are and what is acceptable in a live situation. That being said, there are those songs every musician wants to invest the time to learn as exact as possible for them self. I play YYZ as exact as anyone I've ever heard. Of course, I have NEVER heard anyone play it exactly like Geddy. I learn the vast majority of songs I play note for note; however, when you're a working musician you know what people want to hear and how much time you're willing to invest in a song to make it worth it.
     
    StayLow and hintz like this.
  19. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    I usually LIKE to learn note for note to a point. That's not practical in our band. We're 3 piece. How are we going to learn a song note for note when there's 3 or 4 guitars, a piano, a synth, a horn section, bongos, etc? I definitely cop the feel of the song, as do my band mates. I would 1) go crazy or 2) get so bored I'd have to just give up playing if I had to play the exact notes night after night. I'd say it would definitely be worth it if you had an 8 or 10 piece band. I'd consider it a blast to play the exact parts if there were enough musicians to cover the song exactly. THAT would feel good. Like I said, it's not practical in a 3 piece band. Sometimes you have to fill in some holes and sometimes you gotta change it up slightly to pull it off. Why should the bass be note for note when it's impossible for the band to do it?
     
    lfmn16 and Stealth Fighter like this.
  20. BazzTard

    BazzTard Banned

    I agree with learning basslines note for note.

    The harder ones are like Red Barchetta where there are many variations and you can't really remember them in the same order, I bet Geddy doesn't either hehe.

    Lotsa Beatles songs seem easy, but have awesome basslines, like Something, Dear Prudence and Nowhere Man to name a few.

    The past 2 weeks I've been playing the Allman Brothers Jessica, what a great bassline, busy but not hard, but remembering all the different nuances is hard.
    And Silly Love Songs by Sir Paul, one of my faves.
     

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