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Transcribing for beginners

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,095
I’ve been planning on transcribing ever since I picked up the saxophone, and on my few attempts got frustrated and gave up, but I don’t want to this time, and I think I have a new plan of attack! I’m going to use the demo track of a ‘play along’ book, why I'd not thought of this before I don't know!

From what I’ve read transcribing is a skill that you’ve just got to put the time in to get better at, but why kick off with a sax solo that is potentially out of reach of my ability, by using a play along book/track, I can pick something at my level of ability and at a tempo and in a key my brain can cope with, the demos are usually nicely recorded these days and the sax part clearly heard.

Only problem is I’ve probably played though all my books so I’m on the look out for a new book, and would appreciate any recommendations, I’m currently reacquainting myself with the sax by playing through the ‘By Special Arrangement’ books, so looking for something of that sort of level, in a blues or jazz style. Andy suggestions?
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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2,027
It’s not a bad idea, though those play along books are actually nicely written with some proper jazz language. I wouldn’t call them ‘beginner transcription’ material. Good to move on to though. I think that there is some good stuff in smooth jazz, especially the tunes. Pleasing to play and not so hard to get right.
 

tenorviol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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The 'main' challenge of transcribing by ear is recognising the intervals. You can do exercises to improve that and things like learning to use Kodály solfa will assist.

I think you proposal of picking some relatively simple tunes to transcribe is a good idea.

The MD of one of my orchestras (who has a masters degree from a conservatoire in conducting) has transcribed a number of pieces for orchestra where there is no known source of the sheet music. This obviously involves transcribing ALL the orchestral parts... His observation is that sometimes the version you listen to are not always clear and it can take many, many repeat listenings to get it nailed down.
 

jbtsax

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I use the software program Transcribe, and find it very helpful. You can download a 30 day trial version or you can purchase the program for $39 U.S.
 

rhysonsax

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3,935
I think that's a good plan.

The most important things are to choose a solo that you really like and that is moderately simple. It should also be easy to hear in the mix.

One of my early attempts at transcribing was for this playalong. Bizarrely, although you can buy both the backing track and the demo with tenor sax, I was completely unable to find the solo written out. That was my motivation to get transcribing.


If you did that very solo then you could compare it with my version. Or pick one of your own and let us see how you get on.

As @jbtsax mentioned, Transcribe ! software is great - it almost feels like cheating, with its facilities to slow down and loop the playback, mark beats, analyse pitch etc.

Have a look at this previous thread for some ideas on how to go about transcribing: Improvising - Transcribing

Good luck.

Rhys
 

jbtsax

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In my experience finding the right notes when transcribing is not too difficult and gets easier with practice. The real challenge comes from assigning note values and rhythms to the pitches. Skill at reading rhythms helps, especially knowing what beat or part of a beat notes come in on after rests.

My system is to first put slashes on lines and spaces representing the pitches of each phrase, or section and then going back and adding stems, bars, flags, ties, and rests as needed to represent the "rhythm". In my university music theory class I spent hours doing "rhythmic dictation" as part of the course, and I still find writing down complicated rhythms a challenge---so don't feel bad if it is not easy at first. One thing you might consider is having a more experienced musician check your work.
 
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Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,095
Thanks Rhys, that would be a lovely one to transcribe, I bookmarked it, and then promptly went looking at tenor mouthpieces as I'm currently missing this small yet vital item! But I will certainly add it to the list for later, but think I’ll be on the alto for the time being.

I’ve got Transcribe, so ready to go on the software. Jbtsax, you're right about the rhythm, I’m not hopeful about that aspect of it at all, but at the same time, my hope with transcribing it to break away from the dots and to start memorising some tunes! So the transcription will be a aide memoire.

Great idea to learn Kodály Solfa, Tenorviol, I’d forgotten about it, and the name until you brought it up.
 

Dibbs

Member
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659
I have a trick for rhythms. Tap on each beat with a different finger of your left hand e,g, Thumb,2,3,4,Thumb,2,3,4, then add the rhythm in question with your right hand (no need for particular fingers). You'll soon figure out where the notes come relative to each beat.

I've got pretty good at it for normal time signatures now and don't usually need to do that but that's how I learnt.

If you make the effort to write them with good rhythmic spelling it'll do wonders for your sight reading.
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
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3,064
In my experience finding the right notes when transcribing is not too difficult and gets easier with practice. The real challenge comes from assigning note values and rhythms to the pitches.
This. Absolutely this. Learning to write rhythms is really challenging.
 

rhysonsax

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3,935
This. Absolutely this. Learning to write rhythms is really challenging.
Especially with a solo where the performer is pulling the time around a lot. This seems to be the case more in ballads than in mid- and uptempo tunes, as I have been finding recently trying to transcribe different recordings of the BOTM tunes.

I think that the transcriber can have to make some decisions about how "strictly accurate" to be in notating complex rhythms, since that can lead to difficulty of reading.

Particular areas are where the soloist hangs back slightly or pushes on relative to the strict pulse. It's interesting how they can do that and still sound musical and comfortable.

The other thing I have realised is just how many subtle variations there are of playing quavers, from straight to light to heavy swing and also reversing the swing.

Rhys
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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1,327
This may be old school, I eschew most technological bells and whistles as I am rooted in a transcribing era where you just play the record, then lift the tone arm and back it up as many times as required :old:....but when I have to transcribe, I simply use a YT video and change the playback speed to .5. Yes, it changes the pitch, so you wanna be aware of that, but it also allows one to hear the rhythm and phrasing much better....
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,027
This may be old school, I eschew most technological bells and whistles as I am rooted in a transcribing era where you just play the record, then lift the tone arm and back it up as many times as required :old:....but when I have to transcribe, I simply use a YT video and change the playback speed to .5. Yes, it changes the pitch, so you wanna be aware of that, but it also allows one to hear the rhythm and phrasing much better....
Well I must admit that I’ve held back on this one but agree with you - although using means to help in any way possible is fine if you need to transcribe parts for a band. If you really want to learn though, there seems to be a few posts that hint at people wanting to run before they can walk. If you really want to learn this skill and are pretty much at the beginning, well, start at the beginning.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,027
Especially with a solo where the performer is pulling the time around a lot. This seems to be the case more in ballads than in mid- and uptempo tunes, as I have been finding recently trying to transcribe different recordings of the BOTM tunes.

I think that the transcriber can have to make some decisions about how "strictly accurate" to be in notating complex rhythms, since that can lead to difficulty of reading.

Particular areas are where the soloist hangs back slightly or pushes on relative to the strict pulse. It's interesting how they can do that and still sound musical and comfortable.

The other thing I have realised is just how many subtle variations there are of playing quavers, from straight to light to heavy swing and also reversing the swing.

Rhys
Much of this is in the way you decipher what you hear though isn’t it, it’s the feel, and that isn’t largely notated at all. As you have said I guess.
It isn’t uncommon to see “hang back” or “lazily “ etc as a direction on the part.
 

Jazzaferri

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2,595
The best way to transcribe a solo IMO is to learn to sing or hum or ??? it TIL you can do that a capella. Then it’s just a matter of getting the starting pitch and going from there. If you know it .......the timing is more obvious and you have the phrasing inside you.

if you are a beginner, start by learning and transcribing short easy phrases onesvthat are relatively simple and straightforward in notes and rhythm.

anyone who has worked through the Charlie Parker songbook can attest to how difficult transcribing complex solos is even for pros. Lots of approximations in that one.

if one is in a hurry one has to do it the phrase at a time way. Had to do a Trane Solo for school a phrase at a time. What a pain that was.

IMO the important part of transcribing for learners is to develop the listening skill. Putting the dots on the paper is for many the secondary skill.
 
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Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,095
Rhys' suggestion had me looking for an alto version of Blue Moon, which brought this book up.



The track samples sound promising, although not an alto tone I’d try to emulate, but nice and clear so should help with developing the transcribing skills.
 

rhysonsax

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3,935
Rhys' suggestion had me looking for an alto version of Blue Moon, which brought this book up.



The track samples sound promising, although not an alto tone I’d try to emulate, but nice and clear so should help with developing the transcribing skills.
I've got that book and like it, but you should be aware of a couple of things.
  • Several of the solos, including "Blue Moon", are played by Bob Wilber on soprano although they are written out for alto. This makes some of the ranges quite challenging for playing on alto, although this one is manageable.
  • The recorded solos have been transcribed in the book but seem to have been done for fidelity to the rhythm of the performance rather than ease of reading
  • The arrangements for the backing tracks were taken from the album recorded by trumpeter Clifford Brown with strings.
Rhys
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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2,027
I started transcribing solos, whole parts and then whole arrangements when I was about 11. For me, it was about wanting to know the notes that were being played so that I could play along with the record and learn how the player was getting around the tune and its harmony.
To begin with, I just used noteheads in bars and used semi breves to denote long notes. I already knew the solo well so it was just a crib for me to be able to play along and not make any mistakes - therefore being able to concentrate on the inflections and not programming in any wrong notes through memory lapse.
I don't have a great voice and have never enjoyed singing, so this part for me was never something I used. Pitch memory/recognition along with interval recognition was/is my method. The more you do, the more you will recognise similar/same sentence construction, patterns and licks. My method was cassette tape and good use of the review and pause buttons.
After mastering the solo or part I would put the rhythms in. For complex rhythms I used to conduct, it was more obvious to me than just tapping a pulse and it helped if I couldn't work out whether it was within say, beat 3 or beat 4. Conducting gave a graphic and foolproof illustration.
My first transcription was the clarinet part to Midnight In Moscow -

View: https://youtu.be/BbrXHMYAz-E
 

rhysonsax

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3,935
I think it could be a good idea to have a separate thread about why people do/should transcribe music. I have done various saxophone solos that really take my fancy, so that I can play along with the recordings and learn some good phrases.

And I have also transcribed different ensemble pieces, from duets, to saxophone quartets, soul horn sections and also big band pieces. For the big band arrangements I can normally, with a lot of effort, transcribe the lead lines of each section of the brass and woodwinds, but I can't hear the harmony parts well enough to capture them correctly. I don't know enough music theory and arranging technique to make educated guesses about the harmony parts, but I have a couple of friends who have helped me with that.

I am very poor at hearing the underlying harmony behind jazz solos, so I usually don't put in chord symbols. This also means that I can only do very limited analysis of what notes work well against which chords. I'm not clear whether the symbols people use on their transcription are supposed to relate to the rhythm section's chords (including substitutions) or to the soloist's line at that particular point. If I do include chord symbols they are usually from another source, such as a lead sheet.

If I had enough time I would probably extract some phrases that I really like from each solo and then play them in multiple keys and build up my mental library of licks. I could also build up a library of "signature licks" from some of my favourite players.

Rhys
 

Dibbs

Member
Messages
659
For figuring out chords, first transcribe the bass line. Once you've got that the rest is usually fairly obvious. It's easier said than done for me though. I really struggle to hear intervals down there. There have been times when I wasn't even sure whether it went up or down.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,027
For figuring out chords, first transcribe the bass line. Once you've got that the rest is usually fairly obvious. It's easier said than done for me though. I really struggle to hear intervals down there. There have been times when I wasn't even sure whether it went up or down.
The old trick there is to go double speed and get the bass up an octave
 
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