How really important is doing music transcriptions to become a better musician?
Transcribing music is the best way to improve your skills when it comes to enrich your vocabulary. In order to do this, you’ll need some solid work method and the best music transcription software that could help you to reach this purpose. You most probably spend a bunch of time every day by practicing scales, arpeggios, chords and exercises but you wonder why you still don’t sound as your favourite musicians, or even better, why you still don’t have your personal sound. This blog is mainly focused on guitar but the golden rules I’m giving you right now are valid for all kind of musicians out there, it doesn’t really matter the style played and the level you have.
Learning Music is like learning any other new language
I’m personally passionate about languages. I studied French litterature in high school and I loved the big classics: Hugo, Montaigne, Gide, Flaubert and poets like Baudelaire (my overall favourite), Verlaine and Rimbaud. I’m writing you in English now and as you may know, English is not my native language. I’m an Italian native speaker so I had to study carefully the English grammar, the vocabulary and the literature to be fluent and confident enough. Still I everytime find room for improvements but that’s the way to enjoy the trip folks!
There are many “layers” concerning the learning process of languages and the more I advanced in my studies, the more I understood how much music was helping me a lot in assimilating the languages I needed to learn.
Music and languages are more or less the same for me. You can express an idea with words, you can express it with the sounds: still you’re communicating with the world out there and your brain is synthesizing information into a format that is going to be processed and externalised in the most fluent and achievable way.
From my humble point of view, you can make these assumptions:
Syntax = Scales, arpeggios and melodic materials in general.
Grammar = Harmony, Rhythm, Counterpoint.
Literature = Transcriptions and History of Music.
Listening = Music Listening, Going to concerts, buying records (sob 🙁 ), watch at music videos.
Speaking = Playing with other musicians or solo act if you’re a solo musician.
Vocabulary = Transcriptions.
As you may see, the dynamics involved are pretty much similar, and everything is about learning a group of differentiated skills in order to improve in different areas.
Assuming you’ve already some base on the other areas, if you don’t have a vocabulary your communication skills will be not consistent and you’ll fail in expressing your ideas. You need for something that can be helpful for you to achieve this purpose. You need to improve your vocabulary to be able to face any new life situation in which the knowledge of the language will be in demand.
Imagine you’re in a new city and you’re forced to look at or listen to the translator every time to ask for information. It will take a lot of time and your communication won’t be that efficient. You’ll have to rely on people’s patience and sometimes this can be tricky…
It’s the same with music: the more you’ll master the language, the more your speaking will be fluent and your ideas will be transformed into something achievable for your listeners, something beautiful and clear to listen to.
How to organise music transcriptions in a nutshell?
There are several ways of course and I would overall resume two main different strategies:
- Transcription books (very good to improve your music reading also! )
- Use your hear and transcribe by yourself using softwares to slow down the speed.
The reading method, pro and cons.
Well, while I was a jazz student I spent quite a lot of time by reading from the beginning to the end the Charlie Parker Omnibook and it has been very beneficial for me and my playing.
Not only your music reading abilities will improve a lot ( and if you’re a guitar player, you know how tricky reading could be) but you’ll enter easily inside all those brain mechanisms that will help you to encompass what you just read in your playing automatically. It worked really well for me to help me to master the bebop language. I just read a lot of jazz saxophone players and my abilities grow up automatically without even thinking about it too much…or maybe just a bit..
Again, music is just like any other language, the more you read the more you’ll build up links.
The method can be applied with any author in any style of music. If you’re an orchestra composer, just go and study your favourite author transcriptions (my favourite ever: Ravel Piano Concerto). If you’re a rock guitar player, just learn your favourite solos and riffs. The sky is the limit really.
Transcribing by using softwares
If you want to grow in your listening abilities, grow your music ear and your ability to translate what you ear in gestures and shapes on your instrument, you just need to listen to the music with your instrument in your hand.
The method is just simple: try and replicate as more as possible what you hear. Try and search for the right spot to play the phrase, the correct nuance, the correct timing.
An overall method I would suggest, assuming you’re transcribing a solo for example:
- Analyse the song/composition : Which key? Which speed? Which time signature?
- Focus on a little sequence at time: If you want to learn the language, most probably you don’t need to memorise an entire solo as first. You need to understand the mechanisms behind the solo construction. This is a very important concept. If you just aim to learn by heart a sequence, unless you’ll practice it every day for the rest of your life, you’ll most probably forget about some part of it. You need to relate the sequence to the music itself, understanding the melodic and harmonic process behind the notes you’re hearing.
- Use a software to slow down the speed and then repeat the sequence on a loop, raising the speed step-by-step. Don’t forget about focusing on the timing: if your timing is sloppy while you’re playing slow, it will be even sloppier while playing at normal speed. Just relax and focus on not more than few notes at time.
- Repeat the process with the next sequence and then glue everything together when you’re comfortable enough.
The software I use to transcribe, learning songs, memorise my compositions and compose new stuff
Riff master pro is a very good one. It works both for Mac and Windows. You can import songs, slow down and put some section in loop. You can also make the volume of the voice lower, control and equalise different frequencies and change the key. It’s a very cool and useful tool.
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