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To transcribe or not to?

OP
I

I like music

Senior Member
Many great pieces of advice above from really wonderful musicians.

I too get hired often as a transcriber. The "benefit" side is an interesting one.

The short answer is: Yes, and do it as much as you can.

That said, I have felt like there is more than one side to this.
For myself I have come to think of transcribing in two categories:

1. Those pieces I love, and wish I wrote, and I am hoping to write like that in the future
2. Aural sight reading:

What I mean by # 2 is I have so many songs that I have transcribed, made my clients very happy, and I could barely even tell you the name of them. Maybe I would remember the first chord of them.

So just like practicing sight reading, it's hard to say what specific benefit other than a longer goal of increasing talent.

I got paid too. Like JT alluded to, I used to say for some songs "My ears have joined the Metoo movement" Ear rape can happen to any transcriber.

Few bullet point suggestions
  • Don't touch your DAW other than tempo mapping. That can be useful, but you still have to think
  • sing....sing, sing sing
  • Practice transcribing without pitches, and in addition without a recording. Take a song - say Happy Birthday - and just write out the rhythm. This can be very useful if you are still not strong on notation
  • Scribbles can be wonderful for "real-time" short hand. (ie. Beethoven 5 _ _ _ ___________)
  • Pick music you can check the score later for accuracy
  • Apply what you are playing with an instrument.

I guess the point I am making is I find being hired to transcribe music for publication is a little different than what I would do for my own musical practice. Simply because I am not trying to internalize it. Jazz players are most likely the best model for #1. For internalizing I would also say transpose thru all 12 keys, invert a small chuck, play it fast/slow reharmonize etc. etc.
You can also try writing out the score by memory and checking.

lastly for getting going on transcribing away from an instrument I found Bartok's Microcosmos the ideal practice for myself. All of book 1 moves by step motion. He uses some pentatonic scales so you do get minor 3rds, but in the context it's a step. He is so methodical....it's great.

Just don't expect a good "tune". I don't have perfect pitch, so I would check the first note, and everything else would be completed pencil paper at the table.


Thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive response. Some of the things you said, I really need to go back to, and make a part of a routine. In particular, writing onto paper rather than into the DAW.

This is particularly scary because I can barely read (you know, I still have to use mnemonics to know which note is which, and even though on basic rhythmic stuff I'm getting better, when I look at scores, I have to spend a good 5-10 seconds per note just to be sure of what it is, and I often make mistakes on rhythm)

That said, I'm taking violin lessons, and also have started taking 1-to-1 theory lessons, so this will certainly help!
 
OP
I

I like music

Senior Member
Transcribing is very useful as everyone has said. But if you're a beginner, take it slow. Do simple ear training exercises and combine that with sight singing. Start with melodies. Learn to hear intervals. Learn to transform a rhythm you hear into a rhythm you can write down.

As a composer it's invaluable to be able to hear a melody in your head while you're driving and then seeing that melody in your head as notation, without using a piano, DAW, nothing.
This might sound like a silly question, but any pointers on what might be considered good ear training exercises? Anything at all on ear training (even if it is super super simple) would be hugely appreciated!
 

JT

Senior Member
This might sound like a silly question, but any pointers on what might be considered good ear training exercises? Anything at all on ear training (even if it is super super simple) would be hugely appreciated!
Ear training 101 usually consists of identifying intervals used in common songs.
Did a quick google search and found this site:
https://flypaper.soundfly.com/tips/interval-cheat-sheet-songs-to-help-you-remember-common-intervals/

After you're comfortable with these and can hear the intervals, then take a song of your choice and try to write the melody on music paper using you ear, no piano. When you're done, then play it on piano and see how you did. See if certain intervals are easier or harder to hear, then concentrate on the difficult ones.
 
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douggibson

Active Member
This might sound like a silly question, but any pointers on what might be considered good ear training exercises? Anything at all on ear training (even if it is super super simple) would be hugely appreciated!
Honestly..... just try and pick out songs / melodies on your instrument and reading music, and sing
what you hear.

Don't worry or get distracted by anything else.

Once you get into "ear training exercises" ....you have no idea what pandora's box you are opening and most likely it will simply waste your time.

For examples: I am 100% absolutely in the DON'T MEMORIZE INTERVALS BY SONGS camp.

It's an inferior method at best (IMO) and you can waste so much time.
I am also 100% in the Fixed doh school.

Don't approach any of this or get distracted until you are further along.

Just practice it everyday and trust you are doing it right, even if it feels like you are alone in a dark room with no idea of what you are doing
 
OP
I

I like music

Senior Member
Honestly..... just try and pick out songs / melodies on your instrument and reading music, and sing
what you hear.

Don't worry or get distracted by anything else.

Once you get into "ear training exercises" ....you have no idea what pandora's box you are opening and most likely it will simply waste your time.

For examples: I am 100% absolutely in the DON'T MEMORIZE INTERVALS BY SONGS camp.

It's an inferior method at best (IMO) and you can waste so much time.
I am also 100% in the Fixed doh school.

Don't approach any of this or get distracted until you are further along.

Just practice it everyday and trust you are doing it right, even if it feels like you are alone in a dark room with no idea of what you are doing
Thank you. With all the things I'm trying to do, the hardest part is to try to figure out a structure around my general learning (I'm learning the violin with a teacher, starting theory lessons, learning the piano (on my own), trying to write music, trying to learn more about mixing etc, and even though I'm in it for the long game, I want to enjoy the journey, so I don't want to spend all my time practising across all of these areas. But I feel that getting my 'ear' up to scratch should be a first priority.
 
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