Project 3, Skill Building

How to Cover Any Song in Less Than An Hour

So you’re probably wondering how I’ve managed to crank out basic beats of covers with next to no experience. I just jumped in without explaining how I do it. Because I do want to create a source of how to cultivate things from scratch, allow me to explain. I understand that sometimes starting is the hardest part.

Now I do have experience making music, but I want to clarify: I am a beginner. If you have any knowledge at all, it’s easy to tell that I’m a level 1 music producer and I have a long journey ahead. That’s why I do believe this project is incredibly difficult to me – once I get the basic beats and chord structures, I struggle with polishing the sound. That being said, I am able to create beats the resemble the original.

Please note that this post requires knowledge in basic music theory, including but not limited to: reading music, identifying notes on a piano, understanding basic chords, etc. If you do not have experience with music at all, I’d highly recommend looking at some (free) lessons. I used this source when studying for the Monthly Match-up with Alex.

Find the Tempo of the Original Song

This is always my first step. Finding the tempo of a song is actually quite simple and there are many websites that provide this information. My favorite is tunebat. You get more info than just the tempo too (foreshadowing!).

The tempo is measured in bpm, or beats per minute. I always use this as a starting point for my beat. Here the bpm is 148, but I could also use 74 and make the notes twice as fast (quarter notes -> eighth notes and so on). However, I don’t recommend this because it does complicate things. But keep it in mind, because I’ll come back to this.

Determine the Main Chords Used in the Original

The chord progression is often played in the background of the song. Even if it’s not, you can use the chord progression to figure out which notes are in your melody. For example, if at a particular point in a melody, there’s a C major chord, it’s a good starting point to guess C, E, or G as a note within that melody at that part.

I like to get my chord progression from guitar tabs. As a guitar player myself, I frequent Ultimate-Guitar, which might be the biggest source of chords and tabs online. Search your song, then click on a chords page (if you can read tabs, that can also be beneficial, but not necessary). Note that rap songs sometimes do not appear on the website, because it might not be in demand to learn to play on a guitar.

Looking at chords page for a song looks like this:

Not only are you given chords, but you’re also given when to play the chords. This can give you a feel for how long the chords hold and which order they go in.

Great, now you can put some chords into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation: aka the program you use to make your beat. I personally use FL Studio, but LMMS is a great free alternative to absolute beginners.)

If the Original Song Has a Distinct Melody, Try Sheet Music

If your song has a really distinct melody, try googling for sheet music. This is copyrighted, so expect only a sample of the music. You probably will not find sheet music for the entire song. That being said, there’s often a one-page sample that you can see for free. This can get you started on the melody. It might not sound like much, but trust me, having something to start with is much easier than working from scratch.

Copyright: EMI U Catalog Inc. and St. Nathanson Music, Ltd.

Another hot pro tip: You can watch piano tutorial on Youtube. Even though they can be really difficult to catch which notes are being played, sometimes they link to their own arrangements in the description!

Look for Youtube Tutorials

Speaking of Youtube, it’s a great place to go to get a little bit more information about an artist or song. You can learn distinguishing qualities of the artist you’re trying to emulate. Maybe you hear a snare pattern that instantly reminds you of the song, you made it.

I have some search terms I always try that give me good results:

  • SONG fl studio: If there’s a straight tutorial for how to make the song, you’ll find it with this term. Don’t be afraid to watch videos that use other DAWs such as Ableton or Garageband – you’ll still see some familiar elements. Plus, google is your friend. If they mention a technique you want to try, look up how to do it in your DAW. This keyword works so well since FL Studio is really common that many people who make beats in other DAWs use it as a keyword anyway
  • ARTIST type beat: By listening to a type beat, you can get more of a feel for the sounds that give artists their x factor.
  • SONG karaoke/SONG instrumental: These can give you the beat without the vocals, which can make it easier to hear sounds you might not have heard clearly over vocals

Percussion Tip: Start with the Kick

Percussion is always a great way to personalize your beat. Changing the percussion often changes the mood of the song. Don’t be afraid to make your percussion by scratch, you’ll be surprised with how easy it is to create something unique.

But if you don’t know where you’re going with percussion, start with your kick. Kicks are often used primarily once a measure (try the third beat!) or every other beat. From there, play what you’ve got on loop and try mixing it up.

After you find a kick you like, add some more percs. I usually go for a snare and try and place them as far away from the kick as I can. Again, loop and change things. Don’t be afraid to change your kick again here. If you really like a pattern you have, copy it and mute it so you don’t lose your progress.

Change Things You Don’t Like

Don’t just change the percussion. Change anything and everything you want because this is your cover. You want a different chord progression: go for it. Change the melody? Sure. The sky’s the limit and go with what you like. Personalizing your experience makes it more enjoyable and you’ll end up learning much more.


That’s it. Those are my hot tips for making covers. Of course, there’s much more I have to say on the matter and even more that I have to learn. I’ll be sharing all my tips and tricks with you as I learn. I’ve been working on a juicy beat here recently, I hope to get something up to show you all soon!

Do you have any advice for making better music? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below!

Project 3

My Introduction to Oscillators and Waveforms Through Ariana Grande

I finally made music again! Oh, you thought I forgot? I’m back with another pop song – which is strange seeing as pop isn’t really what I listen to.

Anyway, I decided to take a stab at “The Way” by Ariana Grande and Mac Miller. It’s kind of a forgotten gem. There was also something about that piano I wanted to spice up. I found some beat remakes online and got the basic melody pretty quick.

Once I got it done, I added quick percussion just to get a little bit of a skeleton of the beat. Then I started playing with the piano to find another sound. Here’s what I came up with – towards the end I put in the piano so you can feel the difference in the mood:

This sound you’re hearing is an oscillator. Now I don’t know all that much about oscillators in audio engineering, but in a few electrical engineering and physics courses, I was using oscillators for labs. Oscillators emit waves. The oscillator I was using was a plug-in on FL Studio: 3x Oscillator.

And this is about where my knowledge ends. This is a pretty simple oscillator compared to some of the other ones in FL Studio. I have no idea what the knobs do and need to do some research to learn more.

While there’s a lot I like about this sound I made, there’s still a lot to fine tune. That slight static sound at the end of each note bothers me and I’d like to make the notes less staccato. But if there’s anything I learned my first time around, it’s that the fine tuning takes way more work than the general sound.

Originally I had the second oscillator as a triangle wave. It gave a nostalgic 8-bit sound, but there’s something about that video game sound that I’m wary about. While I really like it myself, part of me thinks it’s a phase. Artists use it to pump the 90’s kids full of nostalgia. So for that reason, I went with all sine waves. I did find a resource that was helpful for different types of waves and what they sound like: to read more try this link.

Altogether, I’ve got a long way to go with this entire journey and my progress has been painfully slow. In all honesty, I’m deterred by the new software. It’s a bit daunting since none of the shortcuts and techniques look the same on FL Studio. That being said, I take responsibility for my lack of progress and hope to get back in the saddle.