woman in green jacket holding a microphone

Changing the Feel of a Cover Song with Limited Instrumental Skills // Jess Baldwin

There’s no shame in not having major instrumental skills, and it definitely doesn’t have to hold you back in helping your student (or yourself!) reimagine a cover song in a style that feels more authentic. Here are a few tools you can use.

Ballad-ize It

If you want to ballad-ize something, Look on YouTube/iTunes for stripped down versions of a song. Search terms like “piano trax,” “piano backing track,” or “acoustic guitar karaoke version.”

iReal Pro

Use the iRealPro app. Download a song’s chord progression from the iRealPro forum (link in app) or input your own from sheet music or Ultimate Guitar or just by ear. Change key, tempo, and style in the app settings until something feels good. iRealPro will provide a decent computerized full band version of that style.

Find a New Beat

The drum beat of a song can really influence how the singer wants to sing the melody since it can elicit memories and habits from other styles. Try singing with different drum beats via…

  • DAW (GarageBand/Logic/etc.) loops
  • a YouTube channel like Talent Progression
  • the app Drum Genius

Even the most basic piano/guitar chords over one of these beats can be super helpful for experimentation.

Borrow a Beat

You can also borrow drum beats from songs you already know.

Choose a song with a drum beat you love. Let’s call it Song #2. It should be a different song than the song you’re currently trying to cover, which we’ll call Song #1. Search for Song #2’s “isolated drum part” on YouTube. It shouldn’t have chords, bass, or melody on it.

Sing Song #1 to the beat.

Learn from Others

Find famous and not-so-famous cover songs by other people and see what they’ve done with it.

  • Speed
  • Feel/vibe
  • Drum beat
  • Chords
  • Keys
  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Production
  • Bells and whistles

Pick and choose elements you like. If you don’t know what’s happening in moments you like, ask someone who can help.

Collaborate with Another Musician

Ask a pianist/guitarist to come in and help, or have your student meet with one. They can help with style and reharmonization.

Be ready to pay people for their time.

  • Your student’s bandmates/friends/classmates.
  • From your local school’s jazz or commercial music department. They are often versed in multiple styles.
  • Someone from a local band who plays in a style the student wants to explore.
  • Studio session musicians. Get recommendations from local recording studios.

Put It Together

Using everything your student liked, start piecing together elements and see what works well together. New, original ideas will probably start to emerge as you do this mixing and matching and experimenting into a reimagined cover song.

Ultimately, play around until it really resonates.

What do you recommend?

What are some other tools you use to help imagine new cover versions for students?

Jess Baldwin is a voice teacher and creativity coach at True Colors Voice and Artist Coaching, where she helps singers transform into Shameless Artists.

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