As the man says, songs, songs, songs

So what I would do in terms of learning others songs is don’t necessarily try to replicate the “recording” of the song. As you say Toby it’s going to be layered and produced so even for a full band it’s going to be difficult to reproduce. What I tend to do is look at how they perform the song live…that usually reveals a much more “doable” version…which will sound as good. Also don’t be afraid to look at how others have covered the song as that’ll also give you ideas on how to perform a good version yourself. Youtube is your friend in these situations.

I always say we play covers of songs but in our own interpretation and style. You need to make it your own song.


Great advice, Jason. My goal is not to play technically correct covers but to play the song as I interpret it. Sometimes that is very close to the original and sometimes it is quite different, but the feel and message need to be there. That is why my few AVoYP submissions always begin with me stating ‘this is my interpretation of…’ :grinning:

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@Mari63 Thank you for that Mari, it sounds really good. I’m going to have a look into that.

@Rossco01 Jason, that is a brilliant piece of advice. Thank you.

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Interesting about the singing. I am not a singer. Sometime I will get the nerve up to try. My fear of singing pushes me towards finger style and classical where the piece can stand without singing. A lot of the basic rock we are using to learn rhythm and cords is not that exciting by itself and really benefits from singing along, if the goal is a complete musical piece.

Divide songs into three categories. And try to be learning one in each category at any given time.

1.) Campfire/BBQ songs. Songs everyone knows the lyrics to and can sing along with, but are just basic chords progressions.

Song examples might be Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Country Roads, Hey Jude, American Pie, Let it Be, etc.

2.) Recognizable guitar songs. These are songs you can play on your own without accompaniment and people would recognize it. Because of a riff, or interesting rhythmic pattern. They maybe somewhat difficult but not impossible with your skill level at the moment.

Some examples might be Norwegian Wood, Hide Your Love Away, Over the Hills and Far Away, Better Man, Time of Your Life (with the picking), etc.

3.) Player songs. Kinda the same as above but much more difficult. Songs you have to spend a few days learning one bar. It might take a year or more to become anywhere near proficient.

Think songs from Tommy Emmanuel like Classical Gas, Angelina… or Clapton’s version of Hideaway. Could even be something classical or jazz.


It’s a fool’s errand to try and play a carbon copy cover of a well known song. Better to stylize it with what you’ve learned while finding your own voice on the instrument. If you are somehow able to copy the original exactly, you will still be left with a copy of a great song that anyone can play any time they want.

Change the key, slow it down or speed it up, add dynamics, add or drop a chord, etc. Find your own bag of tricks. What’s the point of focusing on the 13 millionth carbon copy cover of XYZ song, performed just like the original?


Just playing chords of a song leads to ear fatigue for the listener. Since songs are chord progressions at their heart (as I mentioned previously) it’s hard to distinguish a song from a chord progression without a melody line of some kind. Sing in service to the song, to distinguish it, and to help keep your playing in time.

I don’t like my singing voice at all, but I do it for the reasons stated above – or else I will play a lead jam over the progression or try and suss out some kind of lead melody.


If I sing, I might harm the dog…

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Thanks for the acknowledgement @DavidP!

I first learned guitar back in the 80’s, and it all started out with a Folk music teacher. Chord relationships and such were all part of the package. So these things were ingrained in me and my playing early on. I came to Justin’s lessons to kick start my re-entry after many years without playing.

That said, I zoomed ahead of where I was originally in short order, but I had that bit of music theory/concepts in my back pocket.

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I play the covers as best as I can as a an exercise in enjoyment and learning. Just like the original is usually beyond me.

I imagine as I improve as a musician, I will eventually be able to interpret other people’s songs and give them a personal spin.

For now recognisable and easy on the ear is what I aim for (including my now oft commented habit of inadvertently adjusting the melody and phrasing).

I think this emphasises the point I like to make that when considering how any person performs right now, one is often unaware of all that has come before that brought the person to the current point.

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Clint you’ve heard my covers, enough said. I might be mad by ain’t no fool :wink:

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@TheMadman_tobyjenner, you are an excellent example of putting your own spin on things, but also retaining the original emotion/vibe.

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Great advice Joe. I just started in January, so I’m just playing Three Little Birds, but looking forward to improving and playing more songs. Your categories make a lot of sense.

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Do you guys all play songs in standard tuning regardless of tuning it is suppose to be in? I realize this thread is a year old so you’re prob all progressed far enough by now that it’s nothing to play in an alternate tuning for you. Im still kinda overwhelmed trying to find sings to learn because they’re all in different tunings, so I figure tab or chord sheets are going to be in tunings I can’t play in. How do you know what tuning a song is in and how do you find ones in standard?

Hi @artax_2

The songs with alternate tunings i work with is usually a half step down.

A couple of them is Drop D tuning. You play most of those as you would with standard tuning.
Chord sheets should state what tuning the song should be in.
Most songs. Not all, that is a half step down can be played in standard tuning and sound good.
And most songs in standard tuning can be played a half step down.
Half step tuning actually makes barre chords just a little bit easier to play…


Stacy. I’m unsure how you come to ykur conclusion that ‘they’re all in different tunings’.

There is no measure of this and my guess is a total stab in the dark … but I would guess that 95% or more of pop-rock-folk guitar music is in standard tuning. Some niche bands or artists in some niche genres may mostly use altered tunings. Some guitarists may detune to Eb tuning to suit their singer’s vocal range or their playing style (thick strings and big bends say).
But standard tuning is the massive proportion of songs.

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I’m glad to hear that! Seems like several alternative/punk/90’s songs I looked for ended up not being in standard, and I’ve googled for bands that play in standard and seen posts out on the web were others were asking the same question and got responses that very few bands recorded in standard. One time I watched a video of a guy doing a guitar build and when it came time to test the electronics he had to give it to another guy and he said “I don’t know any songs in standard tuning.” So I’ve been like, what!? How am I going to learn anything. Haha. I’ll try to stick to pop/folk songs for now.

Tonnes of 90s alternative is in Eb or Drop D. I usually just retune to learn it or a “proper” practice, but often play them in standard tuning anyway. So I guess it’s like transposing…

Yep, I second what JK said. Lots of the music I play is in Eb or D standard or Drop D (as is often typical for metal). As my main guitars use an Evertune bridge which makes re-tuning a bit of a pain, I use a Drop pedal to easily switch to the lower standard tunings (although this really only works if you are playing an electric with headphones or have the amp loud enough that you can’t hear the acoustic tone coming from the guitar). Otherwise, I’ll use a Chrome plugiin called Transpose (that I think Richard recommended at some point :thinking:) to change the track up to E Standard. For Drop D as it is only changing one string, that isn’t too big a drama, so I will typically play that correctly, plus Drop D sounds awesome, so… :metal: :laughing:
What tuning you go with doesn’t really matter I guess as long as it works for you unless you want to play along with the original, and then you can still change as above if you like :wink:

If I’m unsure, I’ll just look it up (search online or in Ultimate Guitar for the tab). I guess that’s worth noting that Ultimate Guitar and Guitar Pro both let you change the tuning as well. I guess if it is something like Daughter by Pearl Jam which is in a slight variation of Open G, then that’s a different story but it’s still easy to change to it (check Justin’s video on it) and it sounds super cool too.

When you say you can’t play those tunings, I think that is incorrect, you totally can! :smiley: Just re-tune to whatever it is (plenty of help online for that) and have a crack, I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself and the new tones will be fun (open G so fun, definitely give that a go :smiley: :+1: ).

I haven’t gotten to any lessons on different tunings yet, so I am pretty uneducated. Aren’t the chords all shaped differently when one or more strings is downtuned? I haven’t gotten much into playing anything other than chords at this point.

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