Some pieces of music are written loosely, intended not to be played the same way every time.
Others are written more precisely, where every note has been given much thought, and needs to be played correctly in order to get the composer’s ideas across.
It obviously pays to be able to tell the difference, as it will affect how you go about learning it. So how can you know?
- Consider the style of music. Jazz standards and folk tunes usually fit into the first category whereas classical music and film themes/show tunes are more likely to fit into the second category.
- How many instruments? If you are learning a song written as a solo for your instrument, it’s more likely that you need to play the notes accurately as written. If it was written for a larger ensemble however you probably have more flexibility when adapting it for just one instrument.
- Think about why you are learning it. If for a professional performance, you need to consider your audience and what they are likely to want to hear. If just for yourself though, you are free to learn it any way you want!