Episode 40 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast sets a challenge to help you develop your creativity and songwriting skills.
The Cover Song Challenge is a great way to build your understanding of the music you enjoy listening to as well as help you figure out your own unique style of playing.
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Here are some resources to check out to help you with writing and recording a cover song:
- Ultimate Guide to Recording Guitar at Home
- How to Record Your First Song
- How to Create Drum Tracks
- How to Make Your Guitar Sound Like a Bass
Here are some great examples of cover versions mentioned in the episode:
Even if you’re not interested in the songs the above artists cover, they’re great examples to study to figure out what it takes to create unique cover versions.
Podcast Episode 40 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 40 of the Bite Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, I’ll set a challenge for you that can help you work on building your own unique style of music on guitar. I’ve talked about in past episodes why you should figure out what your unique voice on guitar is. If you want to stand out from the massive sea of guitarists, this challenge will help set you in the right direction.
I came up with this challenge for my students many years ago when I was thinking about my favorite cover songs. There are a lot of cover versions where a band simply copies the original song note for note. A lot of those covers are interesting to hear. The vocals sound different, the tone of the guitars are different, but the song is still the same.
Personally, my favorite cover versions are when an artist takes a song and puts their own spin on it. Instead of playing the song note-for-note, they’ll change up the chords, riffs, or maybe the entire structure of the song.
While some people hate listening to cover versions that stray too far from the original song, as a musician, trying to write something like this is a fun challenge you should try.
Trying to write a cover version that puts your own unique spin on the song is harder than you might think. But once you do it a few times, you’ll feel far more confident in your own music abilities than ever before.
The challenge for you is to pick one of your favorite songs that you already know how to play on guitar, then create a cover version where you re-write most of the song to make it your own.
How far you take this challenge depends on your current skill level and how much you know about other instruments.
On your first attempt, you might just slightly change up the chord progressions or guitar riffs to add something new to them.
Then, you might try re-writing the guitar parts for the verse or chorus, changing any guitar solos, or adding and removing sections from the song.
If you know a bit about drums and bass, you might try writing new parts for those instruments to fit with the guitar parts you come up with.
If you’re up for the challenge, you could take it as far as re-writing the entire song from scratch on your own. With the basic ideas and melodies of the song in your head, try writing the entire song using completely new guitar parts, drum beats, or any other instruments you want to include.
That’s the great thing about this challenge, anybody can try it and take it as far as you want. You’ll quickly find out where you get stuck and you can push yourself to try new things.
There are a lot of benefits you will get from working on this challenge. It gives you new appreciation of the music you enjoy listening to. When you try and rewrite parts of the song, it forces you to think about what makes those parts interesting in the first place. What makes the guitar riffs or melodies in your favorite songs great? You’ll only truly find out when you try this challenge.
Okay, hopefully I’ve made it clear why you should try this challenge. Now, let’s go through some simple ideas you can use as starting points for coming up with your own unique cover versions.
Change the Guitar Parts
The first thing you can do and the easiest way to get started with this challenge is to change the guitar parts. Take a chord progression, riff, solo, or any other part and try to write your own part that fits with the rest of the song.
A good example of this done is with Jimi Hendrix’s cover version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Bob Dylan.
Have a listen to both versions and it’ll be clear how Hendrix approached covering the song. The most obvious change you’ll notice is the harmonica parts. Hendrix takes the basic melody played by the harmonica and uses it as a springboard for his guitar solos.
You can try something similar. Take a guitar part in a song you like or a vocal melody and use that as a starting point for coming up with your own parts.
There are a lot of cover versions where the basic structure of the song is the same, but the guitar parts are completely changed. Give this a go and you’ll see that it’s not that hard once you get some practice in.
Change the Guitar Tone
The next easiest way you can create a unique cover version is to start by changing the guitar tone.
The type of guitar tone you use can completely change the feel of a song and take it in new directions.
A good example of how the guitar tone can lead a cover version in new directions is in Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. Compare the tone you hear in his version compared to the original by Leonard Cohen. It immediately gives the song a different feel.
I suggest taking a song and completely changing the tone rather than making minor changes. So if a song is written on an acoustic guitar, start by playing it on a clean electric guitar. Or instead of a distorted electric guitar, try a clean tone.
Changing the tone forces you to think about how you need to adapt the guitar parts to suit that tone. Once you figure that out, it becomes a lot easier to change the rest of the song.
Another great example of this is with Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails. The guitar parts are very similar, but the guitar tone and vocal tone are completely different. It’s a great example of how you can take a song and completely change it by adding your own unique voice to it.
Change the Song Structure
Another way you can create your own unique cover version is to change the structure of the song.
A lot of songs run in the verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus format. Find a song you like that follows that structure and try to completely change it.
Put an extended guitar solo in the middle of the song or add a new section to the song.
When you try to change the structure of a song, it helps you learn what works and what doesn’t. So if you want to become a songwriter, I definitely recommend trying this out.
Change the Instruments
A fun option to try out is to change the instruments. Take a song written for piano and create a guitar version for it. Or as I mentioned with All Along the Watchtower, take something like a harmonica solo and play it on guitar.
A good example of this is in Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence. Their cover swaps the soft arpeggiated guitar for a piano. Which then leads them into adding a strings section and takes the song in a very different direction.
Simply changing from guitar to piano completely changes their cover version. If you try something similar, you’ll instantly notice how changing another instrument to guitar changes the song.
Change the Style of Music
Something I personally enjoy doing is taking a song and changing the style of music. Find a song from a style of music you don’t normally listen to, then change it to fit your style.
There are a couple of great examples of this in action on YouTube. Anthony Vincent is well known for doing covers where he will change the style of music every ten seconds.
Or Leo from Frog Leap Studios will take any song and write a metal cover for it.
I’ve included links to some good examples on the page for this episode, so have a listen to them for some inspiration.
Completely changing the style of music is a great way to learn more about your preferred style of music. You can’t just copy the guitar riffs or progressions, instead, you’re forced to work out how to make the song fit in a completely different style.
It’s tough to do at first, but it’ll teach you so much about what works and what doesn’t in your style of music.
Change the Playing Style
The last example of how you can change a song is to change the playing style. This time you’re not changing the style of music, you’re just changing the feel of the song.
You’ll often see this when rock or metal bands do an acoustic ballad version of some of their harder songs. That’s an easy starting point, but you can also go in the other direction. Start with an acoustic song and turn it into a full band song.
Or you can take a song that strums chords and change that to an arpeggiated part. Or take a song that is riff based and completely remove the riffs and replace them with chords.
Changing the playing style can be easy or tricky depending on the song, so don’t give up if you struggle on your first attempt.
I’ve given you quite a few different examples on how you can create your own cover version. I know it might feel daunting to do this at first, but just like everything else, it’s a skill you can learn. You may not be happy with your first attempts, but the more you try it, the easier it gets. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can take any song and create a completely new cover version in your own style.
Check out the examples of covers I’ve talked about at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-40
I’ve also included links to useful tutorials on recording your own cover versions, writing drum parts, getting a bass tone, and more resources you’ll find helpful.
If you do this and are happy with what you’ve come up with, I’d love to hear it. Upload it to something like Soundcloud or YouTube and send me the link to check it out.
Give this challenge a go and don’t give up after your first attempt. It might feel hard at first, but the benefits of working on this challenge are massive.
Good luck with your cover versions and I’ll talk to you next time.