To Cover Or Not To Cover?

by Matt on October 24, 2011

I started playing guitar somewhere around 1983. Back then there seemed to be a strange mystique about the guys in the music shops that could play something exactly like the recording. I remember waiting for my lesson on Saturday morning and hearing the student in front of me nail the intro to a famous song and all I could do was smile from ear to ear. In my mind at that age was something like , “OMG! That sounded exactly like the record! That guy can can do what (insert your favorite guitar player) can do!” I remember certain guys that were so good, they seemed to almost glow, ha!

I spent a good deal of my youth just listening to recordings and trying to emulate them. I would have to try so many ways of doing the same thing to figure out how simple guitar riffs were done, I would pick up a tremendous amount of residual knowledge just learning to play something very simple. I had a Chuck Berry tape I tried to cop licks from and I learned from watching cartoons and copying things on tape players and commercials. I somehow began to pride myself on my ability to emulate. I honestly thought that was the goal at one point. Guitar playing became very much a competition sport for alot of us and playing became about one-uping your buddies. It became a game of who could be the master technician. Obviously, we hadn’t discovered the art part yet.

Then Grunge happened. Suddenly it was uncool to admit that you sat and learned a guitar solo note for note. It became a world of guitar noises over a tribal drum beat. Kids were getting angry and music was reflecting it. I remember reading a guitar magazine and a certain band, who shall remain nameless, had declared that the day of the guitar solo was dead and that they (with their infinitely small understanding of music) had deemed soloing as “masturbatory.” I remember thinking at the time, “if I hear one more guy who couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag talk about how soloing is egotistical and that they prefer to play for the song…I’m going to lose it. While I’m sure some of them were legit, I’m certain a good portion of them were just too busy playing video games to learn to play. IMHO

It’s been my experience that players fall int0 two categories:

You’re either totally against learning other peoples music. Add to that a fear that learning to copy someone will tarnish your musical intuition. You tell yourself you’re a purist, but if the truth were told, you’re probably a little bit on the lazy side.


You’re one of those people who will put yourself aside and copy someone else’s music in an attempt to learn from it. In the hopes that someday it will help you create your own…if that’s something you aspire to. These kind of people typically do not shy away from music theory but, rather enjoy learning the intricasies that music has to offer.

(Rant Warning) !!!!

I have to laugh at anyone who will tell me that they’re afraid to learn, for example,  a Charlie Parker riff because they could end up sounding like him. If it were only that easy. I have learned a ton of things from copying Bird but I’ve never been lucky enough to be compared to him. Never will. I’m limited to my mind, fingers, experiences, etc.

What I have learned from studying others music is immeasurable. When you learn to copy someone you have to be a blank slate and let this persons style come through. Bruce Lee would say you become “formless.” From that develops a long list of musical benefits: timing, sense of song structure, feel, tone, technique. The list could go on forever. It certainly seemed important to the great classical composers to study the music of others. Fact is, no one ever learned a language without copying someone who spoke it first…and it’s no coincidence that people who have spoken with a good deal of people are usually very eloquent.

So the better question is…

Which kind of player are you?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Smiley January 6, 2012 at 4:19 am

Absolutely first rate and cpoper-bottomed, gentlemen!


Matt January 6, 2012 at 6:12 am

Thanks very much for the kind words.


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