What I've learned from covers

When I started playing bass, I said to myself… “Why would I want to learn someone else’s song? I’ll play my own music”. Then I started dabbling on the odd cover or two as my “band” wanted to mess around with a certain song or two. Then I started the 50 Song Challenge to play more covers. Then I started playing a lot of covers in my practice sessions. I’m currently learning around 20 covers. I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned from covers. These learning are what keeps me wanting to play more of them, and the fact that my wife prefers hearing me play covers over improv.

  1. The art of silence - I’m really appreciating how impactful it can be to just not have bass for a bar. When I’m just jamming with people, I’m always playing notes, but I’m going to try to start adding more silence.

  2. The art of crescendo/decrescendo - Building up the emotion or lowering it is pretty powerful stuff. I’ve always been fond of a good crescendo and this is something I want to work on more in my own music.

  3. The art of flare - So many covers I’m playing have quite a repetitive bass-line, but every once in a while they’ll throw in a few extra notes. This minor thing really helps to keep the bass-line from getting too stale and I’d imagine it makes it more enjoyable to play every concert as well.

  4. Song structure - Quite a major one. Playing the odd riff from a song, I never learned much about the structure of the song. Now that I’m playing entire songs, I’m learning so much about song structure and what sounds “good” in terms of sections of music put together.

Those are a few things I’ve learned to appreciate in my journey on covers. There are more of course and I know I’ll keep adding to that. I’m using learning covers as adding tools to my tool-belt.

Anyway, is anyone else in this camp? What have you learned from other songs you’ve been trying to play.


I get a lot out of learning and playing covers. The learning and development value is priceless!

  • It helps develop my ear / transcribing skills
  • It helps develop my music composition skills
  • It helps develop my sight reading skills
  • It helps strengthen my rhythm
  • It makes practicing FUN instead of a chore.
  • More than anything else, it’s a way to get feedback from others.

Pretty much all I do to practice anymore is “play covers,” ie learn other people’s songs. It’s the best and most enjoyable way to get better imo. Technique drills/exercises are great and all but learn enough songs and you’ll encounter all the same challenges any practice exercise will give you.


I feel like this would be true after you obtain a certain level of skill, however I’m still working on understanding music theory and learning sight reading. Whilst learning covers helps with this, I KNOW I still need to do the repetitive and more ‘boring’ stuff from class. Covers are good to reinforce what I’m learning in class. They definitely challenge my sight reading and they absolutely add the fun factor to playing.


Couldn’t agree more :clap:


[quote=“JT, post:1, topic:22557”]
The art of silence
[/quote]. Mikes Davis was into something! Haha. My sax teacher is always telling me to play less. So true.

I definitely see patterns and shapes and scales or arpeggios and root fifths etc. what it’s helped with is when I’m noodling I’m no longer playing random notes. I also find it certainly helps my ear and I can pick up other song riffs out of thin air.

I think it builds stamina, also accuracy, and really connects me to a song (unless I dislike the song).


I find songs I dislike so difficult to play at times but out of pure stubbornness I’ll quite often stick at it and really get quite a kick out of it when things work out okay. The chances of me revisiting the songs are however very slim


Absolutely. I wasn’t suggesting a covers-only approach for everyone. I’ve spent many hours repeating “boring” stuff to help me in specific areas and it’s great. Really any type of focused practice is good practice :slight_smile:

Playing covers also helps me a lot with memorization (obviously) and trying to think ahead while playing, which is a struggle.


I don’t play songs I dislike. I just don’t. I’m not trying to gig as a wedding singer.


I think I like to experience the different techniques and especially strange timing amongst some of the stuff I don’t like hence the experimentation.
If I stuck to a lot of the metal and rock songs in my Spotify all I would do is chug .
And as for weddings, I avoid them like the plague :joy:


Ditto, which is one of the reasons I’m not in the first 50 songs contest. I dislike too many of those songs.


Ya there are a few in there I really don’t like, but, I will say each one as I am learning it I eventually say ‘I bet Josh put this song in here because of….(fill in technique blank). He seems to be a lot craftier than he lets on with these songs.

I honestly think my playing is really progressing due to the 50s100c.
Forcing me to learn a song has been my sax journey for many years, although now I generally pick as I know what I am looking to do and my instructor usually approves of any song, but then makes me change up or focus on something in that tune for technique. I think Josh is doing the same here ever so stealthily. I think it is about more than just playing 50 songs.


Agree with @John_E in the quote above. I’d bet there’s some method to the madness in Josh’s reasons for picking those “50 songs” anyone remember asking similar questions about Billie Jean?!?!? LoL

The biggest thing for me with playing covers, is you can get undeniable feedback to your effort vs the actual recording. Doesn’t mean that bassist didn’t flub a note or other and the producer covered it up in editing or whatever. I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to professional musicians who played the songs hundreds or thousands of times, but I still find it a useful point of reference, ESPECIALLY if I’m in the pocket and even remotely close to the original. Peace.


Actually - he picked those songs because those were the songs in the Hal Leonard book you (used to?) get with the course. Josh then filtered out the too difficult ones.


You still get the book…different songs though. I checked that out.


Ahh. Did he add some others to round it out to 50 after trimming the hard ones?


There are a few that are the same but a very different list in total


Interesting, I’d just assumed they were based on the ones in the book. I guess not.


This is the conclusion I came too. He put them in here for a reason. It’s probably good for me to stretch outside my preferred styles and genres. If I really don’t like a song I’ll skip it, otherwise I’ll just get stuck in.


Lets say you only like country music and you only like to play country music. You could certainly only practice country music covers. However, I’m of the firm belief that playing songs from other genres will improve your ability to add creativity to your country music songs and make you a better musician overall. That’s why I describe learning covers as tools in my tool-belt. I don’t just want a screwdriver, I want a toolbox filled to the brim.

How much of school was fun? What if we could pick and choose what we learned when we were kids. Do you think that would have made us well-rounded? Is practicing scales over and over fun? Is practicing permutations and finger exercises fun? Will practicing those things make you a better musician? Sometimes its worth spending time on things we don’t necessarily get a lot of enjoyment from, because it enables us to improve ourselves and get more enjoyment out of other tasks.

I was getting into quite a rut with practicing. I’d do some drills and play the same riffs I usually play over and over. Every practice was starting to sound the same. Now, I’m throwing different riffs into the mix as my creativity is expanding. When I go to a jam session, more intricate bass lines are popping into my head. I directly correlate working on covers to this as that is the main thing I’ve done since completing the B2B course. Now I’ve started a music theory course and can’t wait to see what impact that will have when I finish it in March (it’s a 40 week course).