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Improvising Transcribing

I have done a bit of transcribing and use Transcribe ! software which is brilliant in every way. It helps me enormously.

My sense of relative pitch and my ability to translate rhythms from their sound to their notation and vice versa are not good at all, but I think it is worthwhile trying to get every aspect of the transcription right (key, harmony, pitches, rhythms, articulations and effects). You can always go back and refine your transcription later on.

Here is a rough outline of my transcribing process (I use Transcribe! and Sibelius simultaneously open), but you can do it onto paper or whatever you want.

  1. Get the version of the tune that you want to transcribe (er, obviously !) - that might mean capturing it from YouTube or just obtaining the mp3 or whatever.
  2. Try to find some sheet music for the tune if possible to give a head start on key signature(s), chord progression, song structure etc
  3. Import the recording into Transcribe!
  4. Listen a few times to hear the structure of the tune (e.g. 12 bar blues or 32 bar AABA with verses, choruses, bridges, repeats, coda etc)
  5. Set the marker points in Transcribe! to show where verses, choruses. bridges start
  6. Set the marker points in Transcribe! for bars and beats (I often do this at full speed as their exact position can be adjusted later on)
  7. Use Transcribe! to calculate the tempo
  8. Enter the song structure, key, tempo etc into Sibelius and set the playback (e.g. swing or heavy swing or straight) to match the recording as closely as possible
  9. If transcribing a horn line (e.g. tenor sax) set up the transposition feature in Transcribe! for that instrument. Then when you hit a note on the Transcribe! piano keyboard it sounds at the transposed (not concert) pitch
  10. Start at the beginning and work in chunks, typically one or two bars, with the looping feature on, so you really get to hear pitches and rhythms. If necessary, slow down to 50% but usually not slower.
  11. Check starting pitch using the Trasncribe! keyboard and then work out the first phrase and enter it into Sibelius. Listen back to it and tweak as necessary to make it sound as close as possible to the recording.
  12. Sometimes I will just transcribe a simplified version of a phrase (e.g. leaving out grace notes or turns) and intend to go back later to refine it.
  13. When you've done one chunk of two bars, move on to the next and the next and the next until you find you've reached the end.
  14. Drink glass of beer and congratulate yourself.

I've probably forgotten some bits but something like that.


PS Reading this back I can see that most of the meat of what you want is in step (11) which skips over the "yes, but how do I do it ?". Unless I recognise the whole phrase (pitch and rhythm) straight off, then I think about this as two separate bits: the rhythm comes first and I get that down by listening repeatedly, checking note start points against the beat markers and then sketching out what I think it is in Sibelius without worrying about pitch. Sometimes I make a simplified version with just the longer notes, to fill in detail later. Then for pitch, I listen to the shape of the phrase (e.g. pitch going up, staying the same, big jump down) and checking the pitch of any longer note by using the keyboard in Transcribe!. After entering that into Sibelius I then listen back, try to find any mistakes and correct them.
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