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Part of my practice schedule is to learn a song by ear,then write a song similar to the one I've learned. Can anyone give me tips on how to cover a song's feeling in different chords and themes? I always get stuck in the sense that the particular chord progression makes and can't come up with something original but similar to that.

I'm a guitarist

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    Welcome to Music.SE and thanks for posting your question here! It sounds like there's a specific part of the process you're asking about. Could you expand a little on that aspect? Do you mean that you know how to changes the chords, but every time you do, the new song is too far from the original feel? Or do you mean that you don't know what techniques to use to come up with new/different chords to substitute into the original song? – jdjazz Jun 24 '17 at 14:24
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I'm going to assume the music we are talking about is pop (rock, punk, country, etc.). With classical or jazz the process is much more intense.

To make a song that sounds like another one.

Applies to any instrument except non-tonal percussion

Option 1

  1. Leave the chords the same

  2. Change the chord rhythm slightly

  3. Change the melody (How? Figure out the key and mess around with it... probably stay in key)

Option 2

  1. Same chords in different order
  2. Change the chord rhythm slightly
  3. Change the melody

Option 3 (minor)

  1. Same chords except in the minor key - e.g. (I - vi - VI - V) == (i - VI - iv - V)
  2. Change the chord rhythm slightly
  3. Change the melody

And Voila! You have a song that sounds the same but is different.

How much you want to bet pop-producers follow this formula (or one similar)?

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In addition to the excellent advice Kolob Canyon has offered, here are a couple more tricks.

Chord Substitutions

The first trick is to use chord substitutions. This is particularly useful if your goal is to make small adjustments in the chords but still keep the same overall feel. Here are a few common chord substitutions to get you going for pop/rock songs written in a major key. (Below, in parentheses, I've written in what these chords would be if your song is in the key of C major.)

  1. a major IV chord (F maj) and a minor ii chord (D min) can be interchanged
  2. a major I chord (C maj) and a minor vi chord (A min) can be interchanged
  3. a major V chord (G maj) and a minor iii chord (E min) can be exchanged

Melody Alterations

In many cases, these substitutions can be applied without having to make any changes to the existing melody. So, you could start out your re-write by choosing a few chords to change, and then you could make minor changes to the melody. One way to do this is to choose one or two notes, and vary them. Here are some techniques for how to vary the melody:

  1. Reverse the direction of the melody line. For example, if the melody line goes up (E G A), change some notes so that it goes down instead (E G D).
  2. Change the chord tone in the melody. For example, let's say the melody sits on an E, and the underlying chord is a C maj. You can recognize that the E is the 3rd tone of a C maj chord. Then you can change the melody from the 3rd of the chord to the 5th of a chord (a G). So now you're changing the melody from an E to a G.
  3. Move a melody note up one scale tone or down one scale tone, while not using any avoid tones.
  4. Change a small interval/jump in the music to a large interval/jump (or vice versa). For example, if the melody is C D E, you can change it to G D E. Note: this trick is fairly limited, and there will be many instances where it doesn't sound great. Use your ear as a guide.

Summary

Choosing which techniques (and how many) to use in a single song is a matter of your own personal judgment. It depends on how similar you want your re-write to be to the original. But these are some good ways to start with a song and make careful, incremental modifications until you have your own tune.

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Following jdjazz above, you could try adding some Sus or add 9 chords amongst the standard chords to keep a similar feel but make it "bounce" more?

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