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Playing Transcribing hints & tips

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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Thanks for the info mate - It all makes much more sense now ... :thumb:
Excellent description. I agree completely with getting the rhythm first and then assigning pitches to the notes. I need to check out this software. Thanks for the tip.
Big +1 for "Transcribe!". I use it all the time when practising with backing tracks, too. For example you can put markers on the bar boundaries and loop sections of the track.
Over Christmas I transcribed the head and tenor solos from a tune I have loved for a long time. It is Hank Mobley's "The Turnaround" from the album of the same name.

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This has a simple head played by Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard over a bluesy 16 bar A section, with a one chord 16 bar bridge, a 2 bar turnaround and then a repeat of the A section. That is a 50 bar form in total, with Mobley taking a great two chorus solo, Hubbard and Barry Harris taking one each and then the head and a coda with Mobley soloing over the bridge. That means I transcribed 50 bars for the head, 100 bars for the tenor solo and another 29 bars for the coda.

In doing this I have refined my transcribing process a bit. After I had completed my first attempt and written that into Sibelius, I used Trasncribe! software to export sound files of each four bar chunk, looped 12 times over. I then tried to play along at full speed with Hank Mobley and that way easily found quite a few errors which I corrected.

I also got a better appreciation of just what an amazing player and improviser Hank Mobley was. His playing is so precise and tasteful but also rhythmically varied and melodically interesting. It is fascinating to see what he plays against fairly simple chord changes and also to appreciate some of the personal characteristics of his playing, in terms of range and articulation. Just how can he be so inventive at speed ?

If anyone would like to see my transcription and check it or use it, just send me a message.

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Something I use a lot not mentioned above but probably somewhere in Transcribe Help:
When you've got the beats and bars or whatever markers you use in place and are practicing a particular section it's good to save the "loop" in the "Audio Effects & Controls" window under "misc". You can save loads of different loops and also adjust them quite easily to get the timing in sync on the replay.
Happy to put it somewhere - could there be any copyright issues ?


In these cases I assume the MCPS limited exploitation licence I have should cover it. Also, no problem if the track is Youtube as opposed to Soundclod.

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