If you say you have "learned" a song, what does that mean to you?

Veritas99

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I'm curious at what point you feel like you've learned a song.

Is it when you can play through it consistently without mistakes? When you have it memorized and can play on command? When you feel comfortable playing it for others? After you've recorded it and posted it to social media? Some other point?

As a corollary, after you've learned a song, how often do you go back and practice it while trying to learn something new?
 

Wiggy

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That's a lot of questions (but well thought out), so I'll start with this one: "When you have it memorized and can play on command?"

I can honestly say I have not memorized a single song.

Over the years, I've collected innumerable 'chords and lyrics' files of my most-loved tunes, downloaded every free songbook I could find, and even bought several (an understatement) songbooks. I could get through playing a chordal accompaniment, but couldn't sing along. I became overwhelmed and was running in circles.

Then, about a year ago, I decided (and have stuck with) the Yellow Book. I have the Blue Book also, but that causes me the same problem. Too much stimulus! The Yellow Book is where I'll stay until I have gleaned all of what it offers, which is a lot. I expect this to take a while, but I don't feel restricted.

How many songs do I need in a repertoire (those you can play by heart)? My immediate goal is one. My ultimate goal is about 10, consisting of about 10 different genres. Oh. and the song will have to deeply mean something to me. Otherwise, it just won't stick.

If I get that accomplished, the rest should be easy:)

-Wiggy
 
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LorenFL

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I think the difference lies in "knowing a song" vs. "knowing how to play a song".

I "know how to play" a lot of songs. That is, I know what they should sound like, and I know how to play the chords that are in them, and can manage the chord changes. But, I haven't fully memorized the arrangement.

I "know" maybe one or two songs. And if I don't play them regularly, I lose bits and pieces of them.

Some people are capable of "learning" a lot of songs. If you can, more power to you! I'm generally satisfied just knowing that I can look at a tab sheet and play something without difficulty. I "know how to play it". And I suppose as I get better and learn more chords and such... I'll "know how to play" anything that I have sheet music or tab for. (assuming I ever learn to read sheet, which isn't likely)
 

mikelz777

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I've been playing around 9 years and I haven't memorized a single song so it's certainly not that. Memorization has never been a goal of mine, I use a lead sheet for everything. For me, having "learned" a song is to be able to execute a "performance-worthy" effort of that song. I'm able to play it smoothly without errors and I'm not slowing down to execute difficult passages or chords. In that respect, I've "learned" a lot of songs.
 

UkingViking

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I would say when I am comfortable (or somewhat comfortable) playing it for others.
Ideally that would be the goal of practicing songs, though I rarely play my music live for others.
It would also require memorizing the song. Not for ever and ever ever, but for long enough to perform it. You rarely see artists on a stage looking down into lyrics sheets, so I would prefer not to.

In the Seasons of the Ukulele here on UU, I often end up recording and sharing stuff that I dont feel that I have fully learned. A good thing there that multiple takes is possible, and that you can have the lyrics lying just outside the frame.
 

Barrytone

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I learn instrumentals so I can play and improvise without a score. I know about ten or twelve tunes I play without a chord sheet. Remembering lyrics is difficult. Once I know the chord progression I’ll happily strum with others, improvising up the neck for variety and chiming in with vocals on chorus.
 
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I “can play,” songs from chord and tab sheets but I “know,” songs I’ve memorized because I don’t need to refer to external sources for the music (because I already know it).

That’s how I look at the vernacular.

That said, it takes me ages to memorize a song and then I record it and move on to the next song. They’re all in there somewhere and I can get through about 50-90% before I need to look up the arrangement again for whatever I’m missing. But at this point it’s actually a good thing because the repetition after so long away is good for long-term memory. Then they stick with greater ease.

I want to get a set of dominos and a label maker and stick song titles to the dominos. Then I can shake out three and try to perform them all with no mistakes, maybe a little patter between songs, all in one go. That would keep my memory on point for sure and the exercise of trying to string together songs and play them at a performance level from memory is more tricky than it sounds. I know it took me about an hour to record my mini Christmas concert last year.
 

Croaky Keith

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I used to be a member of the Seasons, when I was, (I suppose I still am), it would take a few days to be able to record something recognizable, & that , to me, is when - however for my own personal repertoire, I'm gonna need all my life to be able to play from memory - if I ever can! :rotfl:
 

mandobart

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I've been playing and performing music over 45 years now. The more I learn, the easier it becomes to learn more.

For me, I don't "know" a song until I can perform it publicly from memory (words, chords, distinct riff/lead). Several years ago I started a set list on Excel of songs I know at a performance level. It's up over 300 now, covering multiple genres from classical to bluegrass, Hawaiian slack key, gypsy jazz, swing, classic country, folk, Irish trad, rock and blues.

There are probably a few hundred more that I can play along with at a performance from memory if someone else is leading it. The hardest part for me is remembering the lyrics.

I can improv well and follow anyone on nearly any tune, even live on stage. That's what spending your formative years in orhestra, stage band and pit orchestra gets you.
 

Jerryc41

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It means I can play right through it - looking at the music most of the time.
 

cdkrugjr

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There's "Learned a song so I can play it for my or a few close friends enjoyment."

Then there's "I can perform this piece for a paying audience."

Memorization? On-Stage teleprompters have been a thing since the 1970s, building a CRT, and now a flat screen, into what looks like a wedge monitor.
 

TopDog

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If I can play a song through, without the sheet in front of me,then I consider that I 'know' it. I do not say I have 'learned' it, but I know it well enough to play at will.Obviously on the way to knowing it, I must have learned it, but it is not a conscious thing, I just play a song repeatedly until, like riding a bike, I find I can just do it!
 

Nickie

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I'm not sure I've ever "learned" any song. Memorized? Does it sound memorized? Sang/played it with all my heart and soul? Yesterday, on stage, I sang Fire, as best I ever had, maybe better, and felt good about it. Later, a band member offered to help me do it better.
I've probably "learned" a dozen or so songs, mostly instrumentals, without looking at the music, Without mistakes, but do I feel like I've learned them? No, not really.
 

VegasGeorge

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I'm so glad to see respected members of this forum saying that they haven't memorized their songs, but use a lead sheet. That's what I do! And, I've always felt a little embarrassed or sensitive on that issue. I guess I don't need to feel that way anymore! :D I have my lead sheets digitized in pdf format, and I use them in a program called ForScore. I really like it that way.
 

Veritas99

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Thanks to everyone for the insightful comments. It's interesting to see the different views from forum members, including folks who have been playing for a while.
 

ukudancer

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I have a handful of songs memorized.

Most of the songs I record, I'm using a chord / lyric sheet since I usually take an afternoon to learn something before recording my first pass.
 
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I'm so glad to see respected members of this forum saying that they haven't memorized their songs, but use a lead sheet. That's what I do! And, I've always felt a little embarrassed or sensitive on that issue. I guess I don't need to feel that way anymore! :D I have my lead sheets digitized in pdf format, and I use them in a program called ForScore. I really like it that way.

I will say that I certainly don’t look down on anyone for needing lead sheets or tab or whatever. My decision to try to memorize a ton of songs mostly comes from me being on the road and someone saying “play me a song.” For years I needed to pull out my phone where I had saved arrangements and I started to think maybe I should memorize some stuff. ;-)
 

tm3

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Interesting question, and interesting answers.

Recently at Uke Group I had the first time experience of making chord changes (in a couple of songs) without thinking about it -- it was kind of like my hands were on autopilot. Usually I follow closely on the lead sheet and get prepared for each chord change.

Maybe that means I have "learned" those songs?
 

Wiggy

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Bill1 -

Add to that the ability to recall the fingering and play at least 5 variations of each Major chord; those being: Dom7, Min, Min7, Dim7, and Maj7.

We all have "learned" or are learning more than we give ourselves credit for :)
 
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Jim Yates

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I feel I've learned a song when I can pick up an instrument and play/sing it. If I'm visiting someone who owns a uke, if I've really learned a song, I can borrow their uke and play the song.
Many of the songs I play on the Seasonistas' weeks, I have not learned, but will often have the words in front of me, and sometimes even the chords, although I have a much easier time memorising chord changes than lyrics.
I play in a jam each Sunday (recently resumed after COVID) with three other musicians. We go around the circle for about three hours, each choosing a song and leaving room for whoever wants to to take an instrumental break. The songs range from blues, bluegrass, singer/songwriter, swing, jazz standards to folk. We never use lead sheets, but will run the chords if they are complicated. In this case, I must have learned the songs that I lead, but will follow or improvise on the songs others lead. If I know a song that someone else chooses, I might throw in a harmony on the chorus.
I don't feel comfortable playing for an audience with a lead sheet myself, but I have enjoyed players who do read their lyrics.