While writing yesterday’s blog, I was aware that when it came to saying you knew a tune, knowing the chords and being able to accompany a soloist wasn’t the full story. This was simply what I needed to know at that particular point in time. This was emphasised to me when readers of the blog made the same point to me, both on and offline.
So here are some questions which may help get you to the heart of the rest of it.
Can a singer at a late night sing-song can say he knows a song if he doesn’t know the words and melody from start to finish?
Can a bass player playing Motown covers in a band say she knows the tune if she doesn’t know James Jamerson’s bass lines inside out?
Can a drummer say he knows the song if knows the drum pattern and stops inside out but can’t sing the melody?
Does a jazz saxophonist really know a standard if she can’t play the melody and chord scales in 12 keys?
And what about the pianist who says to a singer that he knows a song when he knows the chords and hence can accompany but can’t play the melody?
And if you are a brilliant reader of music, does being able to play the music in front of you flawlessly from start to finish mean that you know that tune?
I would love to hear your answers to some of these questions.
My take for what it’s worth – being able to legitimately say that you know a song depends on context, and what your job is at a particular moment in time. No matter how well you know a song, there will always be ways you can get to know it better (for example listen to other versions, learn the words, play it at different tempos, in different time signatures, transcribe the guitar solo onto your instrument, know what chords you can legitimately substitute with others) – thanks to Richard Nelson and Ken McDonald for these!
However if you can play a tune or sing a song to the standard required of you at a particular moment, in my book you can justifiably say you know it. Otherwise you can’t.