How to make songs your own?

I had inadvertently ended up hijacking Gordon’s thread. Sorry @sairfingers , I had acted on impulse not on reflection. And thanks @jkahn for the suggestion I start at new topic.

In Gordon’s thread, I had received a reply from Clint @CT that sparked my passion for the idea of at some point being able to make songs my own.

I won’t go into the details of my impulsive post. Instead, I will simply ask the following questions.

  • At which point in Justin’s grade system can I start trying to make cover songs my own?

  • What are the most important skills needed in order to even consider making covers of songs my own?

  • Is making cover songs your own something you desire or is it more desirable for you to get as close to the original as possible?

  • In case you enjoy making songs your own: Do you have a clear vision in your head, when working on the cover of a new song? In how far is it important first to understand how every nook and cranny in the original works? Or… In how far is making cover songs your own mainly based on trial and error?


I think you need a grasp of the original , what key its in and what chords and why.

You can start making it your own straight away. Change the strumming a bit, use a different x chord , use some scales or picked notes.

You can totally change up the song if its fast/hard slow it down do acoustic or v/v

Obviously a lot depends on your skill level, more tools in your chest the more you can adapt, you are not doing a slide guitar open tuning of something at grade 1 etc…

As for if its more desired… That leads to purpose. Learning guitar your purpose is to practice the bits you’ve learned with a suitable song as suggested by Justin.

Theres nothing wrong with going off piste and stretching your own creativity on a song but make sure you know that isnt going to be the practice your supposed to be doing for the module



The willpower to do it

That’s the opposite of ‘making it your own’

Just do whatever you feel like that sounds best (or least bad) to you


Making a song your own can have different meanings.

It can be as simple as changing the key to sing or play it in a more comfortable area. This doesn’t require any specific knowledge other than trying out what feels good to you.

Change the voicing here and there. Play a C shaped D chord instead of an open D chord.

You can change the quality of the chord as well. Swap an A major for an Amaj7 or an A7. Or play the open E and B strings instead of a B major barre chord. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Knowing a bit of theory is helpful, but not necessary. Let your ears guide you.

Be creative and play a different melody or create your own solo. It can be completely different from the original, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be creative and practice your scales in a fun way.

Why not change the style of the song? Take a pop song and give it a reggae groove, or play a stripped down acoustic version of a rock/metal song. Whatever you like.


You can start right away …and of course it all depends on which song in which situation… do you play songs at a party where people want to hear covers or do you present yourself as a real cover band… some blues studies by Justin where he insists on playing it first learn to play well because it forms a solid basis for improvising later… many songs are so iconic that almost no one wants your own interpretation because you rip out the soul and especially at our level we are often just not good enough to surprise other people in a nice way (on a stage other than here)… mostley make it your own due to a lack of playing the guitar and you can’t play it even though you really want to… covering many songs well is more difficult than some suggest, and an important skill but only important for certain people then again because in the end what do you want to do… you will always remain a living room player who has no need to climb onto a stage with others and play a cover… or music written by someone from the band is more difficult if you have not learned to cover music well… eventually you can do both once you have built up enough skills… it starts with most of you replaying songs… you learn music theory and you learns quickly enough to play chords yourself and making music your own (usually simplifying for most) happens almost automatically if you are not a too strict learner.


I missed the hijacking part in the other thread, but glad this came out of it. Good questions so far, Nicole. :slight_smile:

I try to address your questions as organized as possible. :sweat_smile: But of course, this is only my very personal view and I guess, all of these aspects are highly individual. But let me add one question in front of it:

What does it mean, making songs your own?

Well, basically while tackling a cover of a whole band song on your own, you will automatically make in your own. :slight_smile: At least, as long as you only go for the you and your guitar approach. With good productions skills it’s certainly possible to make a cover of a whole band version that’s very close to the original as a single person, though. But to my view, even then it will have (most of the times) some of its own flavour as we’re not robots hitting copy/paste. The grade of how much you could make it your own is the variable to me.

I think more or less right from the beginning, at least as soon as you’re able to strum through the songs.

That highly depends on the song and the direction you want to take it. Basic skills in rhythm guitar and/or accompaniment are a must for me, anything else really depends on what I mentioned beforehand.

For me, it is quite important to make covers my own. As mentioned beforehand, I’m mainly having the guitar-and-me-only-thing going on, so I can’t avoid making it my own. :smiley:
But for instance, if you are part of a cover band playing gigs for people who want to here versions close to the original, that’s it what you should aim for. So also here, it highly depends on the purpose. If you’re doing it for yourself and enjoyment only, you can do whatever you like and don’t need to follow the same approach for each and every song as well. :slight_smile:
Sometimes, even I aim to get as close to an original as I can (for songs that are mainly guitar and singing) when I like how it’s done and add only a slight personal touch and variations. One of the songs I’m currently working on falls in this category being quite close to the original, but not a plain copy.

Need to break it down: Mostly, there is no clear vision in the beginning. It’s starting with experimenting and noodling around often.
To do that, for me it is important to understand the details of the original first and copying them a little. Then I leave this path and find my own way until I like it. :slight_smile: So yes, it’s basically trial and error for me.

Cool thread, you really made me think and reflect. Thanks Nicole. :smiley:

I’m really looking forward to other’s views on this as well. Good points raised so far I totally resonate with (and needed much more words to express myself :rofl:).


Don’t worry at all Nicole. Look what a good discussion you’ve started on this thread. Community interaction at its best. :smiley:
And thanks to you and @CT I’ve just spent half an hour working out the I-vi-IV-V progressions to every chord I can think of. Excellent!


@RobDickinson @brianlarsen @Jeff @roger_holland @Lisa_S

Thank you so much for your replies. I guess, you notice that these questions have been on my mind for a long time. It’s great to get so many different perspectives and opinions. I’m grateful for your insights and advice.

I will collect a bit more… I suppose, there must be about as many opinions in the community as members :slightly_smiling_face:

Yet, since this stood out so much to me and since I know that this will be my weak spot as I will be progressing…
Thank you, Rob, I will use this a constant reminder that it’s not all fun and games, but that some disciplined learning and practicing is required as well.


Thanks Gordon. I’m really relieved :hugs:

Hi Nicole,

My approach to this was from being clueless. I created a guitar version of a song that was based on recorder or flute and a single drum. It was intended to help me with moving along the neck accurately and also across strings accurately if I played in one of two ways I tabbed out. I did this very early in G1. I had the tab reading lesson, but none of the theory lessons. I just wanted some musical way to help improve accuracy. In this case, I taught myself what the notes were in standard notation and converted the tune to guitar tab for one string and again for keeping the hand in one place.

So that may a bit rudimentary for your immediate question, but it gives the foundation for my answers:

I don’t think the grading system has much to do with it. Start when you have an idea. I had my idea early, but today I have a lot more knowledge to thow at it and I am thinking about far more complex things I could do to other songs.

Your ears. Cheeky answer, but I still think valuable. :slight_smile:

I’m with Brian on this - it won’t be yours! I do think there is good learning from figuring out how or why a song is the way it is. How to get a sound out of the guitar or why the writer chose to sequence it that way or why that way sounds appealing are all often interesting things to look at.

Nope. I have a rough image and often find myself getting into a stuck spot once I work on details. How do I get past this timing inconsistency, how do I play this part to sound like I imagine, can I even play what I am thinking… all sorts of ways to get stuck.

In general, I think the first answer is the important one. If you have something in mind, you are ready to start. When the song is ready is up to you and is likely to be different based on your current knowledge and experience.



If we are talking covers IMHO, keep it close to the original framework (unless you need to change the key for your vocals, or chord playing capability). Stick to the original lyrics and melody. Avoid overdubs - I really detest walking around the supermarket hearing the intro to some old familiar tune, then someone starts sing a load of twaddle over it or wrapping (yes wrapping, covered in paper and thrown away wrapping). Sorry pet hate, I digress :rofl:

As I am assuming its just you and the guitar, go play the song in a way which appeals to how you want it to sound. There may be some “technical” sections above your play grade, add lib with something that fits but still sounds authentic (to you). Be prepared to upset the purists. I’ve done quite a few down graded rock songs to what you could call “unplugged” but I’ve also done it the other way taking ballads and peppering them with power chords and crunchy tones. It would seem some songs are sacrosanct. So some will go down like a fart in a space suit - one good reason the old forum can’t be accessed !

But heck if you get pleasure playing that way, your way, just go for it. And if it turns out to be a lemon…

Just have fun.



make limonade ?

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Great answers so far, so no need to duplicate a number of key points. Most of the regulars here stylize their covers to a degree or two.

Consider making songs your own as extra credit and as an ongoing goal. Songs are just chord progressions, so learn to transpose songs into a key that you can easily sing and/or play. Working out the I-vi-IV-V progression in different keys as @sairfingers did above is a great exercise. There are a bunch of other common chord progressions to work with. You will have a ton of songs to choose from if you get just a few chord progressions under your fingers.

Another good start is to listen to other people’s stylized cover songs. Youtube is your friend. A lot of quirky movies have stylized covers that can inspire as well. Take a fast song and slow it down, take a slow song and speed it up, acoustify electric music and vice versa.

To make a chord progression (song) more bluesy, try substituting with minor, minor 7ths and/or Dom7th chords. To lighten things up a bit add Major 7ths. Feel free to add or remove chords as well to make them easier to play and remember.


or make it Disco :smiley:


Interesting thread! The idea of developing my own voice appeals to me.
I wouldn’t really say that I am doing it at this stage, although I’m doing something slightly different at the moment.
I’m learning Greensleeves in module 16. It’s an acoustic fingerstyle lesson. I was going to skip it because I’m not into fingerstyle but then I thought why not give it a go on electric guitar with a pick. It will inevitably sound different!


Ooo, Toby has probably read this…heads up



Bring it on, with added OD and Flanger FX :rofl: You may not want to share it but you’ll have a ball mucking around with. This may inspire you. :wink:


I better come clean and say I am actually working on the G3 version but once under my fingers and the acoustic gets plugged into the POD. Mwa ha ha fiendish laughter !! :rofl:

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Great idea. It’s probably easier to turn let’s say a metal or punk song into a melodic ballad by slowing it down and replacing distortion effects with an acoustic guitar, but once we are able to use power chords, we will be able to do it the other way round. I’m thinking of how The Lemonheads adapted Mrs Robinson :smiley: