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Uke Whisperer
07-19-2011, 09:16 AM
Playing a song? How is that defined?

I’ve noticed on YouTube and other sites that what is considered “playing a song” seems to range from unidentifiable strumming, to singing and strumming, to picking a melody, to mixing strumming and picking with and without singing and so on…...

One of the few times I can remember it being defined was in John’s instruction sheet for his Olde Time Religion Ukulele Hymn Contest. The following from his instructions:
“May be sung or a recognizable instrumental. I emphasize "recognizable" because a chord progression is not a song (Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain illustrates this brilliantly with their mashups). I've seen videos where people say, "I'm going to play..." and then proceed to play nothing but the chord progression and the song is unrecognizable even if you know it well. When a performance includes vocals singing the melody, you have a song. When a performance includes instruments either playing the melody or recognizably suggesting the melody (as in jazz) you have a song. When all you have is a chord progression.”

What do you consider “playing a song”?

I was thinking about different abilities that could contribute to successfully “playing a song”. The list kept getting longer and longer and when I realized it would continue to do so, I just stopped. I marked those listed as far as those abilities that I do have and those I don’t. The lack of short term memory and fact that I can’t sing are surely my worst enemies. I’m going to have to figure out how to improve those and those related. My instructor feels that my singing range is about one octave and in the Key of G. I will work and see what I can do there.

Ability of picking the melody notes using musical notation? yes
Ability of picking the melody by memory? limited
Ability of strumming the chords from sheet music? yes
Ability of strumming the chords from memory? limited
Ability of “playing by ear” / “perfect pitch”? no
Ability to mix picking and strumming? limited to somewhat
Ability to sing? no
Ability to sing and accompany yourself? no
Ability of accompanying someone else singing? yes
Ability to utilize many different strumming patterns fast and slow? yes
Ability to utilize syncopation of strums and different picking techniques? yes
Ability to utilize tablatures? limited
Ability of good timing and overall rhythm? yes
Ability of fast transition? somewhat to yes

PoiDog
07-19-2011, 09:37 AM
Sometimes the simple answer feels the best: If I play it and someone can recognize it & sing to it, then it's a song. Even if that means just repeating the same three chords (like for You Shook Me All Night Long) over and over. When the timing, strumming, & chord changes are correct people can recognize it and sing to it. Therefore, it is a song.

janeray1940
07-19-2011, 09:43 AM
"Playing a song" to me means both melody and harmony - and that can mean fingerpicking the melody and playing chords, or chord soloing, or playing the chord progression and singing the melody. But just strumming the chords from a chord progression, without adding the melody in any way, is not "playing a song."

Ukulele JJ
07-20-2011, 01:44 AM
As you're seeing, it's really subjective.

For me (and the copyright office too!) it's the melody. If you just play or sing the melody, then that's the song. If you want to add chords too, well, all the better.

Chords by themselves are not "the song". You see this a lot in jazz--several songs might use the exact same chords, but with different melodies. They're different songs. It's the melody that distinguishes them. (And they're copyrighted as different songs, incidentally. You can freely publish the chords to a song you do not have the rights to, IIRC. But not the melody or lyrics.)

Now there nothing wrong with posting a YouTube video of you playing chords to a song. Or even a recognizable riff from a song. I wouldn't say that that's "playing the song" though.

A lot of it is context though. If you just know the chords to the song and a singer who wants to sing the song asks you if you know how to play it, you can say "yes" and not be lying. Implicit is that the singer is asking if you know the song to the point where you can accompany someone singing it, not if you know it to the point where you can play it as a solo arrangement with melody.

JJ

Uke Whisperer
07-20-2011, 05:02 AM
Based on the janeray's and PoiDog's responses above, (should have just read them once, I guess) they seemed to lead me to think that there were possibly contradictions regarding what actually makes “a song, a song”. It seems that technically a song is a composition for voice or voices, performed by singing. A song may be accompanied by musical instruments, or it may be unaccompanied. A musical performance can be a song only, an instrumental piece or a combination of both. Even when instruments play the musical notes of a melody it is not considered to be a song.

Based on the above information, I guess what we call playing a song is really a musical performance, playing music as a solo, part or a group and/or as accompaniment to a song. However, when someone asks me what songs I can play I’ll probably list them starting with Aura Lee, unless it is Ian asking (sorry Ian, I couldn’t resist).

poppy
07-20-2011, 06:51 AM
I guess i'm kinda simple a song is sung requires voice. then there are instrumentals ie "Happy Organ" "Walk Don't Run" "Telstar" etc. we sometimes turn songs into instrumentals by using instruments to strike similar notes to the vocals. My HO.

Mel Ott
07-20-2011, 06:57 AM
It's kind of an interesting philosophical question, isn't it?

As Ukulele JJ says, it's the melody that makes (for example) "I Got Rhythm" a different song from the (literally!) hundreds of other songs that use the exact same chord progression. Or, for that matter, hundreds of songs use a 12-bar blues chord progression, but they're still all different songs, even if you can accompany all of them playing the same three chords.

On the other hand, when someone covers a song, they'll sometimes change the melody. Or the lyrics. Or the structure of the song (maybe they start with the chorus instead of the first verse; maybe they drop the chorus or the verses entirely). It's very common - necessary, sometimes - to transpose songs into different keys. Jazz people will alter chords all over the place, so that what starts out as a simple 3-chord, 12-bar blues might end up with a couple dozen chord changes. The song can be recorded in completely different arrangements, in a different style (you could play a punk rock version of "Autumn Leaves." Or a reggae version of "Moonlight in Vermont." Or a delicate, solo fingerpicking version of "Enter Sandman."). Basically, it's all malleable.

When I think to myself "I can play that song" what I'm telling myself is that I can play the basic chord changes and pick out the (standard) melody at some sort of reasonable tempo. Of course, you can also extend that out further; I remember on a guitar forum I used to frequent reading people saying things like "You don't REALLY know a song until you can play it in all 12 keys, solo over all the changes, and put together a chord-melody solo." By that kind of standard, I don't know ANY songs, but I don't let that stop me.

Uke Whisperer
07-20-2011, 07:18 AM
As you're seeing, it's really subjective.

For me (and the copyright office too!) it's the melody. If you just play or sing the melody, then that's the song. If you want to add chords too, well, all the better.

Chords by themselves are not "the song". You see this a lot in jazz--several songs might use the exact same chords, but with different melodies. They're different songs. It's the melody that distinguishes them. (And they're copyrighted as different songs, incidentally. You can freely publish the chords to a song you do not have the rights to, IIRC. But not the melody or lyrics.)

Now there nothing wrong with posting a YouTube video of you playing chords to a song. Or even a recognizable riff from a song. I wouldn't say that that's "playing the song" though.

A lot of it is context though. If you just know the chords to the song and a singer who wants to sing the song asks you if you know how to play it, you can say "yes" and not be lying. Implicit is that the singer is asking if you know the song to the point where you can accompany someone singing it, not if you know it to the point where you can play it as a solo arrangement with melody.

JJ

Sorry JJ. I didn't see your post earlier.

...Then the legalities add more twists to the definition...

If I get asked, by any Officer of the Court "can you" or "will you", I will answer, as a State Attorney General once suggested to me: "Possibly, but not necessarily so"

poppy
07-20-2011, 08:50 AM
1. A short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.
2. Singing or vocal music: "the young men broke into song".

ukulefty
07-20-2011, 09:03 AM
Wow. Overthinking much?

If I smash out a cracking melodic Jake-like rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, yeah that's a song. If I strum a few simple chords and sing some lyrics over the top, is that not a song too?


If I play and it makes me or someone else smile :) I recon it's a song....

OldePhart
07-20-2011, 11:28 AM
I guess if you want textbook definitions a melody without vocals is a tune, a melody with vocals is a song, and vocals without melody is a poem. :)

That said, IMNTBHO something becomes recognizable as a "song" when someone passingly familiar with a given song can recognize a performance as being of that song and distinguish it from similar songs that might be accompanied by the same chord progression. This leaves a lot of gray area - how wide the gray areas are depends on context. I've been practicing the song Sway, so much so that when I hear that chord progression I also "hear" the melody in my head and recognize it as the song Sway. However, a year or two from now when I have moved on to something else that chord progression by itself might not trigger "recognition" of the song as being "Sway." Likewise, if I were to play that chord progression alone, only a tiny fraction of people would recognize it as "Sway" - namely, those people who have a context similar to mine (i.e. it's a favorite song or they've been practicing it or what have you).

Clear as mud? :)

OldePhart
07-20-2011, 11:30 AM
...If I smash out a cracking melodic Jake-like rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, yeah that's a song. ...[/I][/B]

If I smash out a cracking melodic Jake-like rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody it will be a bona fide miracle and somebody is going to be 1/3 of their way to sainthood... LOL

PoiDog
07-20-2011, 12:26 PM
I probably should have been more clear in my original comment. But I tried to imply that melody was key when I said "if someone can recognize it."

Thus, playing a C-F-G chord in different melodies would be different songs, though with the same chords.

I should probably just stay out of anything even remotely related to musical theory or technical issues from here on out, because I am woefully overmatched by it all.

GrumpyCoyote
07-20-2011, 12:47 PM
You are missing a key element, rhythm - specifically rhythmic timing. So to answer your question we must first ask "What is a song"?

I say; rhythm, melody, and harmonic chord progression together. Although only one of these elements need be present to qualify as "music" - a chord progression with proper rhythmic timing can certainly be considered a recognizable "song" without an explicit melody. Harmonic progressions *can* do a passing job of representing a melody. Profesional accompanists would certainly tell you so.

But let's ask Webster:

1
: the act or art of singing
2
: poetical composition
3
a : a short musical composition of words and music
b : a collection of such compositions
4
: a distinctive or characteristic sound or series of sounds (as of a bird, insect, or whale)
5
a : a melody for a lyric poem or ballad
b : a poem easily set to music
6
a : a habitual or characteristic manner
b : a violent, abusive, or noisy reaction <put up quite a song>
7
: a small amount <sold for a song>

So you see it's not "technically" relevant. It's, as JJ said, subjective.

Personally, I virtually never pick out a melody. Some melodic fills, but almost never the full melody of the piece. Even my (admittedly few) instrumentals are based around harmonic chord structure as a substitute for a one note melody.

So now I have to ask, why? It's never occurred to me qualify one piece as a "song", and another as "less than a song". I'm genuinely curious.

Uke Whisperer
07-21-2011, 03:12 AM
Based on the janeray's and PoiDog's responses above, (should have just read them once, I guess) they seemed to lead me to think that there were possibly contradictions regarding what actually makes “a song, a song”. It seems that technically a song is a composition for voice or voices, performed by singing. A song may be accompanied by musical instruments, or it may be unaccompanied. A musical performance can be a song only, an instrumental piece or a combination of both. Even when instruments play the musical notes of a melody it is not considered to be a song.
).

Above Quote was based on some quick research I did (not based on personal knowledge or understanding). It began with Wikipedia, references to/from Oxford English Dictionary and others.

GrumpyCoyote
07-21-2011, 06:02 AM
Yep - that seems to be the historical definition. A composition for voice. I would suggest that definition is outdated. Our modern vernacular has elevated the word to essentially be synonymous with "composition" or even "any composition or recorded improvisation".

If we accept the "for voice" definition however, then you still have an interesting question even if you change the noun.

I still say the definition is lacking inclusion of rhythmic timing. We can change the entire key of a melody and still have it be recognizable, but monkey with the timing of those notes too much and it becomes a new thing entirely.

OldePhart
07-21-2011, 12:29 PM
We can change the entire key of a melody and still have it be recognizable, but monkey with the timing of those notes too much and it becomes a new thing entirely.

I agree, but melody includes timing, right? If you play the same notes with the same timing, you can change the rhythmic accompaniment pretty extensively and still have recognizable songs. Look at all the "picking on" bluegrass versions of rock songs and so forth. The entire rhythmic section changes drastically but the notes and timing of the melody remain pretty close to the original and we recognize the "rock" song even though it's being played as bluegrass.

John

GrumpyCoyote
07-21-2011, 12:50 PM
I agree, but melody includes timing, right? If you play the same notes with the same timing, you can change the rhythmic accompaniment pretty extensively and still have recognizable songs. Look at all the "picking on" bluegrass versions of rock songs and so forth. The entire rhythmic section changes drastically but the notes and timing of the melody remain pretty close to the original and we recognize the "rock" song even though it's being played as bluegrass.

John

Good point... the melody itself is already comprised of the expressive timing.

veejayblox
07-21-2011, 02:07 PM
rhythm, melody, chords. as long as it has a beat, it doesn't matter. a song is what you want it to be. :2cents: