1. Didja accidentally blow through the whole, "We're using our real names" thing on registration? No problem, just send me (Mike) a Conversation message and I'll get you sorted, by which I mean hammered-into-obedient-line because I'm SO about having a lot of individuality-destroying, oppressive shit all over my forum.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Discussion areas for the individual classes are unlocked for all users. Let's see if this makes it any more useful. If not, we'll drop this or organize under a single banner to save space and lean things out.
    Dismiss Notice

Tips and Advice for ONLY pencil and paper composing or transcribing.

Discussion in 'Notation' started by Doug Gibson, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. I thought I would start a thread that is of interest to me.
    As stated above Advice for ONLY pencil and paper composing or transcribing.

    No Computer, Piano or other instruments.
    This is where you can post your advice, your frustrations etc.

    The only thing I ask, preemptively, is to refrain for asking about the validity of this technique. By all means open another thread to discuss that. I just would be grateful to avoid the clutter. If you write your music using sample playback, a instrument, or hitting yourself with a hammer then more power to you.

    This is pretty much a lost art form these days and am curious about other members use of this technique
    Claude Ruelle likes this.
  2. Hi, I think my best advice would be to train your ability to recognize chord progressions and scales and how they relate to one another (relative ear/pitch). I sometimes transcribe by ear when I don't have my instrument with me, for example when I'm driving or when I hear a cool tune in a store or something, but I'll usually play it on the guitar or piano when I get home.

    Personally, I don't really internalize any musical idea until I get it under my fingers. I write music on an instrument, so I want those ideas that I've transcribed to come back when I'm improvising.

    I would feel limited if I could only transcribe using pen & paper. But that's definitely a skill I'm trying to develop and get better at.

    (sorry, I think I kind of did discuss the validity of that technique... Didn't mean to though.)
  3. You need to have a very strong musical ear to transcribe something with only pencil and paper. And the best way to develop a strong ear is through transcription, but you can't jump straight to pencil and paper. That requires at least some knowledge of music notation and theory. The best way to start transcribing is by critically listening to a piece of music and playing it back on your instrument, or even better: sing it. If you can sing it, you can play it.

    I started out as a bass player, and before I learned how to read I was playing everything by ear. I quickly learned that the tabs you could find online were 90% wrong, so I would just figure out the bass lines myself by listening and playing back what I heard. Eventually I learned how to read/write music and I learned some theory so I started writing down more challenging transcriptions, like bass solos or walking bass lines from jazz tunes. Then that led to more challenging transcriptions where I would pick out inner harmonies beyond just the bass line or melody, or transcribe something with multiple instruments. That is how I developed my ear. Now I could, given enough time, sit down and transcribe something with just pencil and paper. It would likely be in the wrong key unless I knew the first note or the key of the piece ahead of time since I don't have perfect pitch, but I would be able to write down all the correct rhythms and intervals with accuracy, depending on the complexity of the piece.
    Claude Ruelle likes this.
  4. I'm used to transcribing since I started making music seriously in my teens mainly because I had no access to any transcribed jazz solos back then. So for years I did hardly anything else but practicing and transcribing the music I wanted to play. To apply that to orchestral music was somethimg I didn't think of until I watched Mikes classes and it's for sure very helpful.
    But developing any desire to compose and the ability to form music in my imagination started with a different experience I had during my time at university. I had to learn a classical piece on piano pretty fast which I had no experience or any chops for doing it. I got a great teacher for half a year and he told me stories of great pianists practicing long works only with the score in their hand without even touching their instrument sometimes even playing and recording it after traveling without having time to physically practice. I was so fascinated by that idea that I started to learn pieces by hard and play them only in my head before touching an instrument.
    It's kind of transcribing "the other way round". If that makes sense.
    This is an ability all composers that lived in times prior to recording technology had to develope just because they had no opportunity to listen to a piece again and again. If you listen to the old masterworks you don't feel their is something missing because technology was not available back then and they could not transcribe. Sometimes it's more like their is something missing because of techology. Isn't it?
    Anyhow for me somehow that started the process of beeing a bit more able to catch musical ideas in my mind and write them down.
    Just my 2cents and maybe another perspective.
  5. Never think the paper has more value than what you're doing. A.k.a don't save paper when your head is bursting with ideas; leave plenty of room all around for additional ideas such as variations, motifs, harmonic twists, notes etc. and have plenty of sheets available.
  6. Great replies so far. I'll post my own thoughts and tips on this as the thread goes on. I was thinking this could be a little resource page for anyone
    trying to experiment with the endeavor.

    Markus - I have had a similar experience to you with the piano pieces. I'll write more in detail later, but the basic gist is theme and variations.
    I would write out a passage or a piece I had learned to play, just pencil and paper sitting at a table. Then I would basically experiment with the music,
    but the whole time trying to mentally hear the results in my inner ear. It could be as simple as re-ordering the pitches etc.... but the point was to hear the
    music in my mind.

    As I mentioned I'll write more, and with more detail as I find the time, but I'll leave with one little small trick that actually is pretty useful for me.

    Go for a walk: It could be any kind of exercise I suppose but I think that the rhythm of walking or jogging seems to generate ideas for me.
    I'll try and visualize the notation for anything I am humming, and have a little pocket notebook I carry. When the idea seems important enough I'll stop and
    write it out.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  7. Dough- Seems like we have a similar approach. I always have my pocket book with me. Ideas often occur unexpected to me- walks are great but can be anywhere- and have a strange feeling of unimportance sometimes. After taking them down and checking it out it often turns out to be quite useful. So I kind of got into the habit not to judge to much if an idea is good or bad or to simple or whatever.
    The biggest problem for me in the moment is to realize it into a listenable piece with all the mess of computers, libraries, mixing etc. So much difference between whats in the mind and what comes out. In this regard I envy a bit the old guys that just had to write it down. On the other hand even the greatest composers sometimes never had the opportunity to listen to some of their compositions.
    So technology is kind of a blessing and curse at once for me.
  8. #8 Adam Alake, Jul 18, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017

    This book is filled with solid practices towards this very end.
  9. For transcribing, I just go a section at a time. Sometimes I use headphones and take one ear off to concentrate on the cellos, etc. I've been transcribing things that I have access to and then checking my work with a red pencil. Starting with spare orchestration (e.g. The Omen tension scene) and moving to bigger stuff (Starship Troopers Punishment/Asteroid Grazing). I'm getting better but once in a while there's something so bonkers that I don't catch it (chords played with 6 trombones in Troopers!)

    For writing I often write a lead sheet first then go back and orchestrate. Although after watching "Writing when you don't feel like it" I might go straight to orchestration paper in the future.

    I made my own scoring paper also. Two systems of 8 lines with a center line for perc, based on what JW uses. Mine is an 8.5x11 sheet which is a bit tight sometimes (have to write very small.) I've bought several bigger pads in various sizes but rarely use them. I should give that another try.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  10. #10 Bradley Boone, Mar 11, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
    I seldom compose on paper, but I usually transcribe the old fashioned way. I don't use staves or manuscript, just a blank sheet. I mostly do rhythm transcription (harmonic rhythm, melodic rhythm, textures), harmony (chord changes a la lead sheet), tempo indications, and form planning. I have the paper in landscape orientation and divide it with a ruler to indicate measures. I personally don't spend a lot of time on pitch, but focus on rhythm/articulation/form. It sounds chaotic, but this method sets the foundation for most of my projects.
  11. Nice. Most of us get too hung up on pitch. It is amazing how if you have the rhythmic,articulation,form in place how the notes sort of magically appear.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  12. I try to do everything initially with only pencil & paper, though I often reach for the piano when I'm trying to hear chords. I also reach for the piano to see if I can play what I've just written with the same feeling it had in my head.

    I expect (hope) that will get better over time with deliberate practice. Next time I transcribe or compose, I think I'll challenge myself to finish before sitting down at the keyboard. Right now, I have no idea how much I actually rely on it.
  13. Question about this. When we've transcribed something, once we compare it to the original score is it recommended we go back and rewrite/correct mistakes we made by hand?
  14. Not necessarily, as long as you see and acknowledge them you will remember them.
    Andrew Christie likes this.
  15. #15 Rohann van Rensburg, Jan 14, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
    Depends how thorough you want to be. I'd at least vote to circle in red or something, but if you're transcribing a lot of a particular piece you'll probably remember it.

    What I do is make notes, like i.e. "can't really hear this note" or "providing air", etc for corrections, and then just refer back to that if I make the same mistakes. If it's something happening commonly and you're able to eventually predict it, then you've probably learned well enough.
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  16. Another thing you can do is transcribe and then check every few bars instead of doing a lot once. That way you get a chance to try to integrate what you've learned, e.g. trying to hear the clarinet you had no idea was there.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  17. Definitely, I always do this and it's what Mike recommends. Really just a bar at once when starting out (I usually do a full melodic phrase or whatever makes sense to my ear). You really learn an astounding amount when doing this.
    Andrew Christie likes this.

Share This Page