Whether you want to ease into songwriting, please a crowd, or give yourself and your loved ones a little simple satisfaction, covering a song can be extremely rewarding. I’ve heard some exceptional, better-than-the-original acoustic covers, and I’ve heard some exceptionally drab ones too. Here are some tips about how you can put together an acoustic cover worth remembering.
1. Know your song
First thing’s first: know your song well. Get a feel for the form of your song (how sections like verse, bridge, and chorus fit together). Figure out which instruments are playing which parts, and start to get a feel for which of those parts are indispensable. Learn the vocals, and learn the chords. For some, this might mean sitting next to a recording and fiddling around until you’ve learned the song by ear. For most, this will mean looking up the tab or sheet music, along with the lyrics.
2. Pick an aim
Alright, we know you’re going for acoustic, but there are plenty of types of “acoustic” out there. If you’re going to play the guitar, for instance, do you want to strum out the whole thing? Do you want to play it fingerstyle? Do you want to include a gnarly solo? Think about a mood you want to achieve, and what measures you’d have to take to achieve it. If you want to conjure the atmosphere of a relaxing beach, maybe a frenetic fingerstyle rendition isn’t the way to swing it. You can incorporate anything you want. Your only limitation is your skill, and sometimes, a little practice can allow you to play much more difficult material than you might expect.
3. Stay away from note-for-note renditions
It’s happened to us all: you’re searching for one of your favorite songs on YouTube, and you come across a cover. The thumbnail of the bored-looking dude staring at his webcam is enough to make you suspicious, but you click the link anyway. He doesn’t change anything about the song; he plays it note-for-note, and sings all the nuances the same way… Only not as well. Why is covering a song note-for-note dangerous? There’s a reason why you know the original song in the first place. It’s because it was arranged, played, and performed well to begin with. If you try to arrange, play, and perform the same song the same way, chances are you’ll come up short.
4. Get creative
This really follows from the last two tips. Do something interesting with your song. Experiment with the original chords. Figure out which ones are imperative to the structure of the song (usually the first and last ones in a phrase), and play around with the ones in between. Come up with a new riff that complements the vocal part. And while we’re on the topic of vocal parts, sing with your own distinct voice. It’s okay to emulate, but try not to directly mimic the original artist. If it doesn’t sound good the way you play or sing it, change it. If you’re playing with a partner or a band, you can really have some fun with percussion. Acoustic songs are typically played without a standard drum set, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some percussion. Break out the maracas, tap on the body of your guitar, stomp your foot. Please accept the cliche, “the possibilities are endless.”