Music Listening Activities - Cover Song Comparison

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Most middle school kids love music. So to get them excited about music theory, you just have to connect the curriculum to the music they already listen to. That’s what makes this ‘Original Song vs Cover Song’  comparison exercise such a favorite. Teach your students to identify musical elements with this active listening task. And they get to jam out.

Covers can completely change the mood, style and overall feel of a song, based on the creative direction taken. Fast-paced pop songs can become powerful ballads, and quick witted raps can turn into slow, melodic poetry. In this project, students are asked to compare and contrast two versions of the same song (the original version and a cover version) by describing the musical elements, mood, and lyrics.

Choosing music​

First, choose two versions of the same song. Make one version the original, and the other a cover version by a different artist. From Twenty One Pilots’ version of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love, to YUNGBLUD’s informal cover of Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones, there are tons of fun choices for this. For best results, be sure to pick covers by contemporary artists who your students will recognize. (Who hopefully cover songs by artists you’ll appreciate!)


If you’re looking for a quick list, try Time Out’s 30 Best Cover Songs of All Time. Or scroll through the endless acoustic covers on TikTok for examples of how different voices change the same song. You could even use songs that sample other music, instead of covering them in their entirety. 

Music Listening Activities - What is a cover song worksheet

Active listening​

Next, hand out this Analyzing Original Song vs. Cover Song worksheet. It lists a brief summary of musical elements at the bottom of the page. This acts as a guide to help students identify what they’re actively listening for, and gives specific musical language they can use to describe what they hear.

Then, play the two versions of the song for your students. Have them complete the chart as they listen. Encourage them to think about each individual element and describe it in their notes. 

Lastly, have students share their answers with the class. You may wish to re-listen to sections of each song to help students hear the specific elements. You might even ask them to state which version they like better and why, using the musical elements listed on the sheet. 

This template can be used over and over again to compare original and cover songs, or any two songs of your students’ choosing! The musical elements index listed on the bottom is a great resource for active listening, and gives your students tools to analyze and further appreciate music they already love.

Music Listening Activities - printable resource for cover song comparison

Printable music listening activities​

Once you show your learners cover songs and samples, they’ll start noticing them in everyday media, or they might even seek out creative covers of their favorite tunes.


If you’re interested in trying out this intro exercise, check out my freebie ‘Analyzing Original Song vs. Cover Song’ worksheet. 


Or, if you’re ready for the whole project, see my full Cover Song Comparison packet for more music listening activities. Students will complete the cover song activity, write about which song they prefer and why using the musical elements discussed, and create cover art for each song as a visual representation of what they hear. An assessment rubric is also included.

Music Listening Activities - Cover Song printable project