How to Transcribe Music

Transcription is a great way to train one’s ears, while learning & assimilating the vocabulary, rhythms and stylistic nuances of jazz.

Tips for Transcribing:

  1. Pre-format your pages by writing…
    • on every second staff, so as to leave room for written observations
    • only two or three measures per line
    • clef and key signatures
    • chord symbols above each measure
    • double bar lines and boxed letters to indicate the song’s formal structure
    • the soloist’s name, the song title and chorus # at the top of each page
  2. Know exactly where you are in the form at all times. (This is why we pre-formatted our pages.)
  3. Skip the challenging passages, returning to them later.
  4. Aim for “fence posts”.
  When you encounter a seemingly difficult phrase, find isolated notes landing on downbeats and write them in.  Eventually it becomes an exercise of “filling in the blanks”.
  5. Expect times when you will be working from note to note. Its OK. At other points you will probably hear and notate entire phrases with ease!
  6. To determine on what beat a phrase begins, tap and count.
  7. When you reach your saturation point, take a break (or do something else) rather than continuing and becoming increasingly frustrated.

As a supplement, here is a link to a well written article by Illinois-based trumpeter Jeff Helgesen, entitled “Effective Solo Transcription“.

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