While checking the accuracy of a transcription of one of my tunes today, I ran into a familiar problem: I now play the tune slightly differently than I did when I first wrote and recorded it.
In order to avoid confusion in these situations, I go with the way I originally played the tune, since the transcription will be based on the original recording, and often on old video footage of me performing it as well.
Sometimes in the years after composing a tune I will tweak small details of the way it is played, so as to improve it as a composition.
In these instances, more recent video footage will show me playing the tune slightly differently.
This evolutionary process doesn’t bother me. I am happy to find and use more efficient and/or expressive ways to voice chords or play melodic phrases if they serve the composition.
But it can bother guitar players trying to learn a tune from a transcription based on the original recording or old video footage.
When a guitar player says, “The way you play that tune in the new video is different from what’s written in the tab,” I respond, “The performance of the tune has evolved since it was first recorded and transcribed.”
If I find a better way to play something, that’s the way I tend to play it from that point forward.
To some players, if any detail varies from what’s written in the transcription or what’s audible on the record, something is wrong.
It’s about the perception of what music is.
Is a piece of music about the precise technical details of its performance?
Or is it about how it ultimately feels and functions as music?
Is a composition the same thing as its performance?
Should a composition be allowed to evolve technically in order to stay true to itself musically?
I believe it definitely should be, because I believe in the musical result, and not necessarily in the techniques used to produce it.