When it comes to transcribing music, there can be two connotations. Firstly, for the Classicists transcribing music was identical to arranging music. They considered transcribing music for any specific instrument, for example transcribing an orchestral piece for the guitar. However, on the other hand, more common and generalized meaning of transcribing music is the practice of writing a piece of music down from a recording. This article will primarily deal with the process of how to transcribe music from hearing it.
Before beginning the process of transcribing, you must answer the important question of why do you want to transcribe. Is it because your music teacher has asked you do so, or you simply loved a piece of music that you have heard and want to transcribe in order to play it neatly. Music cannot be created if done reluctantly or under compulsion. The desire should come from within. Many musicians on understanding the importance of transcribing music have groaned in despair. They have listened to a piece of music and tried to transcribe it, but got caught in cobwebs of problems, like melody being too fast, or bass line could not be heard, among others. They can pick up four or five notes from a particular harmony, but misses the other two that make the chord sound just perfect. Musicians spend a lot of time playing repeatedly the same piece of music to get that one elusive sound, every time feeling that they almost have it. However, they never get the desired sound, and feeling defeated they angrily shut down the CD or audio tape player.
Adhering to this approach might produce some results and enhance your skills of transcription, but at large it is simply self-defeating. One tends to miss the essence of music, the beautiful weaving of notes and rhythms that ultimately forms an enchanting coherent structure of music. By missing the very essence, a music lover can be left dejected and frustrated with the fact that he or she cannot play the music what he or she hears.
To avoid any further musical agony, let us check out the ways of how to transcribe music:
• It is always easier to transcribe music with the help of your instrument, especially, if you play piano or guitar, since these instruments can help you find the chords as well
• Get hold of a CD player or software that allows you to loop particular sections of a musical piece. If you have a Mac Garage Band, then it can be used to loop audio, without altering its speed. It would certainly be an added bonus if any software allows you to slow down the music without altering the pitch. When talking about pitch, it would be helpful if the CD player, software or your instrument can be tuned slightly up or down to ensure that the instrument and recording is exactly in tune
• Once the tuning is perfect, map the structure, including the timings, of the piece or section of the music. It shall give you an idea of how the different pieces fit together. After you listen, write down the chords as soon a possible. Listen to the piece for several times and find out if there is a recognizable chord pattern such as the Rhythm Changes or 12 Bar Blues. Having a precise overview will help you to understand the core structure of the melody or harmony. Knowing the overall structure of a piece would also prove to be beneficial in the sense that if a particular section is hard to hear in one phase, it can be heard later in a repeated section
• Now, let’s take an example. Suppose you are entering a house. Obviously, you would enter the drawing room first, and then go into the other rooms of the house. Similarly, while transcribing music, begin with the melody and bass part. Further apart and being on the outside are easiest to hear. Once you have understood and got hold melody, chords and bass, it becomes easier to work out the inner parts
• If you are finding it difficult to transcribe, it is advisable to write the beats and sub-beats for every bar, and count them out loudly as you listen to the melody. Each time you come across a melody note, quickly place a dot in the proper position in the bar. This is a much quicker and efficient process than writing notes for beginners
• The most important key to learn how to transcribe music is to develop the skills of listening. Listen carefully and do the easy bits first. Leave out gaps for the tough ones that can be filled later. Try to get down on the middle parts and meticulously try to analyze and work on the inner parts of the harmony or melody. If some parts are near to impossible to hear, then make up something using the chords and sections that you have already transcribed. Sometimes your experienced musical guesses can really do wonders and prove to be right. Try to analyze the pattern of voice leading, which is how each note within the chord moves to the identical position in a particular chord. You can get hold of the pattern by listening scrupulously the top note of each chord
These steps will help you understand the basics of how to transcribe music. You must think that the entire process of transcribing music is like completing a puzzle. All you have to do is find out where every piece goes, be patient and fit them together and the result will be a written version of a musical piece that you crave to play. The task is certainly not an easy one and it requires much dexterity. However, once successful, you shall begin to love music all over again and you shall sharpen your skills of improvisation and composition.