Musical Transitions – From Originals to Covers

Making Original Music

For the vast majority of the time that I have been playing bass, I have been playing in original bands.  That is to say, bands that write and play their own songs.  Sure we might throw in the odd cover now and again, but 99% of what we played were songs we wrote.  As such, I never spent much time learning any cover songs, nor did I have a very high opinion of cover bands. 


Time Catches Up With Me

Well as I’ve gotten older I have found that it is increasingly harder to find original bands with musicians that are of my age.  I considered starting my own band with music I wrote, but in truth I don’t think I ever was a stellar song writer, I wrote a few decent tunes, but the vast majority of the songs I have played were written by someone else. Typically I would write my own bass line to their songs, but that is different than writing an entire song. 

My New Reality – Covers

So now I find myself, 43, still wanting to play music, but having limited options as to people to play with.  Additionally, as I never really learned any cover songs I find that when I jam with others, I don’t know any of the songs they are playing.  This, I believe, is exasperated by the fact that I am on the leading edge of Generation X.  I grew up in the 70’s listening to Wings, Rod Stewart, The Stones, Tom Petty and The Who, but it was 80’s metal, Judas Priest, Dio, Maiden, Sabbath, that got my attention when I first started playing bass.  Eventually I moved on to Punk rock and then Indie, which became Alternative when Nirvana broke out.  So when I do sit down to learn a cover song, it is not Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eric Clapton, it’s Jane”s Addiction, Death Cab for Cutie, The Tragically Hip or The Clash.  For whatever reason guys just a little older than me all seem to want to play classic rock, which equals rock music from the 60’s and early 70’s.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of that music, I just haven’t listened to it over and over ad nausea like I have music from the 80’s and 90’s. 

My Transition

I currently find myself in the situation where I have found a couple of really cool guys to jam with, they are a little bit older than I, and again they mostly want to play the same classic rock stuff.  These guys are truly great musicians, and I know I can learn a lot from them, so I am trying to stay positive.  It’s been a little rough going for me trying to learn some of the songs as I’m just not that motivated.  Some songs bore me and I find myself skipping over them.  The interesting thing is that some of the songs I really like and I find that I can internalize them and play them with ease.  Others I just can’t seem to get in the groove for.  I keep working on the songs as I know they will come, I’ve even made a playlist of the 30+ songs I’ve been asked to learn and have been listening to it constantly.  Funny thing is I can play along to the tracks no problem, but when I’m with the band and they call out “Crossroads” I go blank.  I know it’s in A, but have yet to internalize the melody.  Slowly but surely I will get there though.

Final Thoughts

So basically, I’m not sure if I was born too late or too early.  Maybe I’m just not hooking up with the right group of guys.  I get that when you play covers you need to play music people want to hear, but seriously, doesn’t anybody want to hear any rock music form the 80’s and beyond?  If anyone reading this has had a similar experience I would love to hear about it.  Specifically how you worked through it, assuming you did.

2 Replies to “Musical Transitions – From Originals to Covers”

  1. It’s funny how most musicians who play only their own music have a tendency to look down on those of us who find ourselves playing covers. I think most musicians would opt for an original band, or artist, because it has the potential to be much more gratifying. With cover music you can only go so far, and in that respect it is limiting. The biggest, best paid, band here in Minnesota is an 80’s tribute band that pulls in quite a bit of money, I’m sure the members make at least six figures, and even though that sounds great, that’s it. They have nowhere to go but down.

    The best reason to learn covers is to break a bassist out of their proverbial box. I’m sure that after playing for a long time we all can get pretty set in our ways as far as technique, improv, and general knowledge. Covers give you a chance to break out of that mentality. Look at people who sing. There are some innate singers who have a good voice without training BUT, they would sound even better WITH training. That training consists of what? singing music they’re not comfortable with. Covers can teach you to go beyond what you can innately do.

    I know the feeling of not remembering songs, but you’ll learn that each bassline has it’s place in the song and becomes an integral part of what we hear when listening to other musicians. The key to playing even simple songs and not getting bored is to concentrate on certain aspects of your playing. For instance, a straight 8th note figure that we so often have to play, we can concentrate on the accents, steadiness, consistency of volume, or even how we attack the strings to name a few. All those nuances make our performances much more interesting to ourselves and others. You won’t really find that by playing your own material, because by default it’s always going to be stuff you find relatively easy to play.

  2. So true! I don’t think I ever looked at it this way, but you are right. Playing covers definitely has me working outside of my comfort zone, which personally I view as a good thing. I am learning to enjoy the little nuance each song brings, trying to stay true to the original while adding a bit of personality to it. In the long run I know it will make me a more versatile player, which is what motivates me the most.

    Thanks for the comment!


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