As the man says, songs, songs, songs

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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Hey Stacy, well yes, if you change the tuning on the strings away from the standard intervals that you normally have, then yes the chord shapes will change, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily harder. 6th string power chords in Drop D are easier! You can just use one finger. In Open G you can strum the open strings from 1-5 (typically muting the 6th) and it plays a G chord - yay! And a couple of other chords you can play with just one finger too :partying_face: :smiley:

Alternatively, if you down tune all the strings so that the intervals remain the same, say to Eb or D standard, then you can still play all the same chord shapes you already know, just they’ll sound lower - how cool is that! So if you tuned down half a step, then your normal E chord would be the same shape but it would sound like Eb, same with G shape chord would sound like Gb, etc.

Essentially the same concept as putting on a Capo to go higher. In fact, I think @LievenDV said recently he often tunes his guitars to D standard so then it gives him lots of freedom to transpose a song from D upwards by simply using a capo i.e. if he wanted a song in Eb then he’d just put a capo at the first fret rather than having to tune the whole guitar down a half step. Much easier eh?! Although, I imagine there are some other considerations when doing that, like possibly needing thicker strings to handle the lower tension :thinking:

Anyway, hopefully this takes some of the mystery away and makes you feel like tunings are less of a hurdle! In some ways I feel like it’s one of those things with guitar that turns out surprisingly easier than anticipated :sunglasses:



Some of the higher Paul Simon stuff ends up in my reachable range when tuning all strings 2 half tones down. I seldom play a song in original keys; First thing I do when learning to play and sing a song is take control of the key!

on acoustics, (usually equipped with 12’s), it less of an issue than on electrics.
On acoustics, the D standard tuning still has enough tenions but you start feeling the difference.
On electrics with thin strings, it could start to feel pretty flimsy. I play with rather thick strings on all my guitars so no issues there.

If you consider thicker strings on an electric, make sure the string slots in the nut are wide enough

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An important consideration …

When a song is in a de-tuned tuning, say E flat or in the case of Lieven D, all string are tuned down by the exact same amount. What this means is the guitar plays and behaves exactly like standard tuning in terms of chord shapes and where to place your fingers. The only difference will be the actual sound will be lower in pitch.

Alternative tunings do not allow for the same chord shapes overall and these are less common. Although, as JK and nzmetal say, their preferred music uses them.

Drop D is a single string (the low E) tuned down a whole step.
Double Drop D is both E strings tuned down to a whole step.
Both require new chord shapes on some or a lot of chords.

Any tuning prefixed with ‘open’ is a wholly different thing and strings work differently in relation to one another. The point of these is to make the open strings tuned to actually play a full chord un-fretted. And part of the point of these is to make use of lots of open strings with minimal fretting to make chords. You need a whole new set of shapes for chords. These are the least common of all.