Performing a cover is not just about playing the song exactly the same as it’s written. Doing covers is artistry in itself and it’s about taking an existing song and adding your own twist to it. Think about it as being similar to pancakes. No chef makes pancakes the same. There will always be a variation in toppings and ingredients depending on what chef is making the pancakes, and I think that should be the same in music too. If you give a song your own touch, you have your own version of it that’s unique to you and your style of music. If someone wants to listen to a song, they’ll look it up and listen to it, but adding your own personal style to it will interest the audience and show them a groovy new twist to the song.
There are lots of ways to add your own twist to a song, and these ways have a lot to do with the six concepts of music:
– Tone Colour
– Dynamics and Expressive techniques
These six aspects are very important to consider when performing a cover. You don’t have to use all of them, you can pick and choose depending on the elements you were wanting to change, and then go from there. The style you want to perform the cover in is a key factor as well. What often makes a great cover is if it’s done in a completely different genre to what it was written in. For example, a blues version of a Beyoncé song, a vintage jazz cover of a Green Day song, a rock cover of an Angus & Julia Stone song, anything you can think of! The crazier it sounds, the better! It’s all about experimenting until you get a sound that you really love.
Pitch is a common thing to change when performing a cover as different people have different vocal ranges. Often, a cover will be in a different key based on what’s comfortable for the performer and based on the desired feel of a piece. And even if you don’t want to change the key, you could always slightly alter the chords. For example, if you’re wanting to perform a jazz cover of a song, you can make the chords blues chords, and vise versa.
Duration is also a common thing to change as often a cover is longer or shorter than the original. And other than that, it’s common for artists to make their notes longer or shorter and not stick to the exact same rhythm and timing as the original. It’s very effective in a cover to hold a note on longer than in the original (for example, Lianne La Havas’ cover of Say A Little Prayer) and it can make for a very unique cover.
Another great technique is tone colour. This basically means the way you play or sing and the sort of style of sound you use. For example, using an acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar would give it a different tone colour, as well as singing a nasally, loud song really warm and smooth would give it a different tone colour. It’s a really good thing to use to give your cover your own personal touch.
Changing the structure of a song is often done by artists as well. For example, they might cut out a verse, do the bridge twice as long, add a mad instrumental section, repeat a chorus three extra times, really whatever they feel like. This is a really fun thing to experiment with because it means you can pick and choose your favourite parts of a song and put them together, and even have a section in the middle where you just improvise over the chord progression and make your own awesome solos. Anything is possible in a cover.
Often, people might turn an upbeat pop or rock song into a chilled out acoustic with just a guitar and vocals. This is very common in a cover and this is referred to as a change in the texture of the song, when you add or take away instruments. This is usually done to give the song a completely different feel and is probably the main thing people do when performing a cover. This is especially common with solo artists or duos as there aren’t as many people to play all the instruments so they completely strip back a cover and usually only have one or two vocal parts and then a guitar or a piano. This is great to do for chilled out gigs like busking or playing at the markets as people can chill out to it and it’s not too in their face if they’re just walking by but it’s just enough to encourage them to stop and have a listen to new versions of some great songs.
The last thing that can be changed in a cover is your use of dynamics and expressive techniques. This is basically just the way you express the song to the audience and involves being louder or softer than the original, as well as adding your own little ad lib sections, trills, runs, scatting, vibrato, pauses, and so much more. It’s very common for people to make a cover softer, especially for busking, as it means the music isn’t super in someone’s face, but then it’s still pleasant to listen to and can catch people’s attention as they’re walking by. People often also add their own variations to the song, for example they might add things like little trills or improv sections, or they’ll make a line more simple and tailor a song to their level of experience.
So there’s a few ways of personalising a cover so that you can add your own spice to an existing song. If you’ve still got questions, check out these links of some of my favourite covers: