I've been playing the guitar for nearly four years, and I think I'm getting better at it.My brother plays the drums, and our two cousins play the guitar well. When we had all met last time, we wanted to do something fun. Two of us wanted to write a simple song on our own and try experimenting with few chords to make up a song, while the other two suggested that we should do cover.

In the end, it led to a helpless and pretty lengthy discussion. Two of us said that writing original music would improve our skill, while the other two said learning covers would help us even more. So, I'm here asking the question:

Which would benefit us the most, learning covers or writing originals?

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    Downvote with no comment? For shame! It's a good question - maybe with less than stellar spelling and grammar. Better to propose an edit than downvote, IMHO. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 20:46
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    There's the objective answer and then there's the group dynamics answer. The group dynamics answer is very, very complicated. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 17:31

8 Answers 8


You should do both! When I just start working with other musicians, I like to get a cover or two under our belts so we can feel each other out and learn to play as a group. Literally at the same time, I like to meet for songwriting sessions to start putting stuff together for originals. Both covers and originals will improve your skills, but perhaps in different ways.

The bands I've been in that write originals have always had a few members who don't come to the dedicated writing sessions (which I recommend over trying to write at band practice) and who are happy to just come up with their own parts and/or "cover the original" - meaning play the bass line or whatever that someone else comes up with.

Maybe the two of you who are eager to write can meet some time outside of a full practice and come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to practice after you run through the cover(s) you are working on.

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    Something that goes over really well is to cover in an different genre. There's a lot of punk bands playing Taylor Swift songs, for example.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 21:48
  • That kind of cover frequently turns out to be very successful on NBC's The Voice, too! Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 0:14
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    @corsiKa The Jimmy Eat World cover of We Are Never Getting Back Together is better than the original, IMHO. PS, I love the original. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 13:26

I agree 100% with everything Todd Wilcox stated in his excellent answer!

To add to what he said - as a songwriter myself, I find that learning covers is a great way to improve not only my skills as a musician, but also my skills as a songwriter.

First of all, when I write my own songs and musical arrangements, I tend to use chords and riffs that I am comfortable playing as part of my original arrangements. As a result, my original song compositions don't necessarily challenge my guitar playing skills or general musicianship.

But they do exercise the creative part of my brain and force me to analyze and think about song structure and melodies and phrasing and so on. Basically when I am writing original music, I am forced to analyze everything about the song to a much deeper extent than just learning a cover song. I have to think about why I want to use a certain chord in a certain place and how to differentiate the chorus from the verses and many other aspects of arranging and creating a melody. This more analytical and intentional focus on song structure carries over to a greater understanding of why a cover song is structured the way it is.

On the other hand, learning covers will often take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to learn new skills as a musician. Then I can apply these new skills to my future original compositions. Also, learning covers while also being a song writer, gets me thinking more about the structure of the cover songs and often I discover interesting new ways to arrange new original songs based on something I discovered while learning to play a cover song. So I find that learning to play covers, helps me to not only become a better musician - but a better song writer as well!

So in many ways, learning covers and writing original music, go hand in hand and work together to enhance each other. So doing BOTH will actually improve your overall skills better than doing either one - without the other.

When I play out professionally, either solo or with my band, I play more cover songs than original songs - primarily because the venues I perform in require more background music or dance music and the audiences tend to prefer familiar songs.

But even when playing in a listening environment where the audience is more receptive to original material, I like to open and warm up with a familiar cover song. That's because when an audience hears you perform for the first time, they are making judgements about your delivery and skill and musicianship and not so much concentrating on the exact lyrics you are singing. They are mostly trying to decide if they like you. Once you win them over and they are convinced that you are worth listening to, then they will be more likely to lend an ear to the lyrics of your original songs.

That's just one more reason to do both if you can.

Good luck with your band. Mostly enjoy sharing your music, whether covers or originals or ideally - both.


I think both are very beneficial to the evolution of a band, and being able to do both is definitely a good ability to have.

In the bands I have been in we have always started out with just doing a few covers. That way we get to see and hear how each of us likes to play and what music we like. When you have some covers down that you all like writing your own music is incredibly fun, and with the knowledge of each other's styles you'll be able to write music complementing each others playstyles.

Of course this can happen quickly and you might be able to write your own music very quickly after starting out, but I definitely think that playing a couple of covers during the inception of your band is a great way to get to know each other in a musical sense.

Good luck with the band, man!


I would like to add that while being creative is great and writing your own songs cannot ever be a bad thing, there's absolutely nothing wrong with "only" being a straight covers band. Doing your own interpretation of songs can be really interesting but if you're playing to entertain other people then working to emulate the original song as closely as possible is not "second best"; whatever your audience enjoys is worth doing!


If you want to work, play covers. If you dream of stardom, write originals. You might even make it!


This has already been answered brilliantly by Todd Wilcox, however here is my 2 cents.

I'll try to keep it short.

Learning a cover will help you technically. Writing your own stuff will help you creatively.

Career wise, the former will help you get work in a covers band. The later is what is required if you want to make serious money from the music business.

If it's just fun - do whatever the hell you want :-)

  • I think it's very fair to say that learning covers will help you creatively. There's nothing more valuable as a songwriter than pulling apart music you love to see the nuts and bolts of how it works.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 9:32
  • Ironically, as someone who's published several compositions (originals), arrangements (remixes), and transcriptions ("covers") on Musescore, it's my transcriptions that have tended to be the most popular (most often viewed, most favourites, etc.). Originals may make the most money, but covers get you the most consistent fame.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 13:41

Thoughts after 50+ years of ensemble play:

Are you guys trying to play in an established or traditional genre (klezmer, bluegrass, trad-jazz, blues, &c.)? Then exploring standard repertoire together develops chops, and lets you get inside and appreciate the nature of that tradition's interactions. Full-on copies of performances you admire will get you going until you can ambulate on your own...

Jazz (improvised) players? (OK, those guys aren't asking this question.) I always liked the lab-band format for people developing something new, because everybody there gives in order to get. Worked for 60's avant-garde (Phil Glass, Steve Reich), too!

If you have undefined or inchoate aspirations and a pop/hip-hop/country background, somebody has to be the bandleader. Doesn't have to be the same person on every piece - just a single vision and voice. That goes for a cover, and for new compositions, too. And the best leader might not be the writer...

And if anybody is struggling with their instrument, it's best to let them pick the numbers and everyone else accompany to make it sound good.


I go with the rest. Learning covers makes you see the music from another man's point of view which you may never have thought about. It may also influence your creativity. How ever, what's the use of learning if you cannot make use of what you have learnt. Writing your songs is more like putting you to test. You pass when others seem it fit to borrow your scores. That is to say, you giving them the covers to learn. Lol

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