Session Guitar: Prepare for Session Work with Cover Tunes

I often get asked what is the best way to train for session work.

Of course, you have to be able to sight read, know how to read chord charts, have your gear together, and finally be able to play in various styles. Of course, we can and will go into great details in other blogs, but for now I am going to give you some advice I learned some time ago.

Learn cover tunes!

Years ago, I accepted a job to record 100 songs in 30 days! (Two other guys turned it down because they said it couldn't be done in the time allowed.) And not just guitar ... I was to recreate the current top 100 songs from the various pop, country and R&B charts. EVERY INSTRUMENT. Talk about trial under fire. The songs were used for years in shopping malls where you go in a booth and lay your voice over the track. It was a lot of fun and very popular at the time.

I learned, tracked and mixed three-plus songs a day for 30 days, 12 to 18 hours each day. By the way, there were no MIDI files to download of the songs at the time (mid-'80s). I had to chart them myself. I learned how to get the parts down quickly, get the sound fast, mix accurately. Sure, it was only going out to "mall people," but I had something to prove. And I did it.

Here's what you can do.

Download a few MIDI files of some of your fav songs, and songs that are popular now, and add the guitar. Pick from various styles. Try to make the guitar sound as close as possible. Match the tone. The notes. The overdrive. And of course, the playing. Listen hard to see if you can tell how many tracks are being used also.

Sound easy? Now do it on a deadline. Give yourself one hour per song, then do it again your way and be creative and make it better! Do this often enough and the quality of your listening power and playing power will grow exponentially!

Something we all know but never talk about is how people in the music industry have NO IMAGINATION! They just regurgitate whatever is hot -- over and over again till they run it dry. As you listen to the top songs of the day, you realize certain guitar sounds are always used. This is important, because when you get called for a session, most of the time it will be to play a part with a certain sound requested, often referencing a current song. You really have to know what is hot. Then you need the ability to create, or rather recreate it on the spot.

Now I don't recommend any insanity like trying to do 100 songs in 30 days! But if you were crazy enough to pull it off, the benefits gained would last a lifetime!

I have mentioned in past blogs that it is important at the beginning to take whatever session comes your way. This job was one of those with all three qualities you want to see in a session: good money, connections for the future and a lot of fun. And it didn't end there. Each month I would get called on to do a few more songs in the top 10.

Imagine the money and experience I would have given away if I said no like the two other guys before me! They cried about it, my friends. And now I'm the guy writing about it, not them. Who do you want to be and what do you want to do with your life?


Till next time … Ron Zabrocki

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49