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I need a little help starting to transcribe.

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Eric Watkins, Dec 31, 2019.

  1. #1 Eric Watkins, Dec 31, 2019
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
    I'm sure I'm not alone, but I am having a really hard time getting started transcribing. I am NOT a classically trained anything. My theory is probably a solid C or C+. I've been learning on my own for decades but I've never developed a great ear. To be honest, transcribing orchestral works just seems SO intimidating that it's kind of freaking me out and I feel a bit paralyzed, lol.

    So I'm a keyboard/piano player of mid-skill level. I'm not great in ALL keys but I'm trying to fix that recently with scale work as well as learning some older songs with jazz-based chords, like Somewhere Over the Rainbow and such in Eb. Man, that thing, for being a slow-paced song, stopped me dead in my tracks between being in Eb and also having all of the different voicings with extensions. I've been watching a LOT of Youtube videos lately about jazz theory and it's starting to all make a lot more sense now. I'm beginning to understand a lot of why it sounds the way it does, with the added extensions, but I rarely understand why they choose some of the voicings they do and by the time you throw that many weird combinations of notes in a chord, I also have a hard time understanding how they come to name the chord because at a certain point, it seems it could be a few different chords, just depending on how you look at it.

    Sorry, small sidetrack there but I want to learn the jazz stuff because it seems like a LOT of what has helped Mike and has been a huge part of John Williams' vocabulary comes from that language.

    So anyway, I was thinking of buying the book in the link here. I am a huge fan of Silvestri's score for Forrest Gump but I don't know anything about buying actual "score" sheet music, so I was hoping someone could confirm that this is the type of thing I'd want to be able to check my transcription against if I were to start transcribing parts of this particular score.

    The other thing is it's hard for me to at all decide how to transcribe things. What I DO know how to do, is to write in Cubase. It's what I've been doing for 18 years. I imagine just trrying to make my own mock-up, but I know Mike talks about doing pencil and paper transcriptions. I can barely read, let alone write notation. I bought Notion for my iPad years ago but I have never gotten on with using it much.

    To summarize, this all feels really overwhelming, but I'm tired of getting old and feeling like I'm never going to get better, and I KNOW that transcribing is what I need to do. Any tips that anyone can give me to help me get started in a way that will keep me moving forward and not feeling so overwhelmed would be great. Also, if anyone can tell me if this book would be a good start for general score study and also to help me check my own work, that would be wondeful.

    Thanks everyone. Mike is a freaking beast and watching a bit of his recent "Unleashed" really inspired me again.

  2. I'm kind of in the same boat as you, but what got me going was working out a basic sketch on piano and then inputting my transcription directly into my DAW (the "score" view, that is, not the piano roll). First just the bass and melody parts, then the harmony / perc / etc. What's nice about this is that you get instant feedback if (like me) you haven't developed your ear to the point where you can hear the score just by looking. Also, there's a certain thrill after correcting each bar of hearing the song / orchestration you love come to life. And it makes it easy to do quick A / B tests to gauge how close you are or identify gaps.

    I suppose the down side of doing it this way is that it will slow down ear development and ability to "audiate", though, and I'd be interested to hear the experienced folks chime in on that too.
    Eric Watkins likes this.
  3. #3 Doug Gibson, Dec 31, 2019
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
    I thought I would just pop in and say if anyone has any specific questions, I would be happy to share my experience.

    I did not begin transcribing music until after I received my Master's Degree in composition.
    So I began late in my music learning, as I had a strong theory/reading approach before.

    I don't want too get too bogged down on micro-stuff:

    Good writers read a lot. Try and focus on the "process", and "habit" at first. See if you can do 20 minutes a day.
    No matter if you accomplished anything or not.

    Also, divide your practice into two categories:

    1. The works you wish YOU wrote and trying to learn from.
    2. Anything that crosses by.: This is like practicing sight-reading. There is nothing specific other than the tune in front of you.


    I think for myself one thing that made the biggest difference was simply structuring my life to let me improve.
    That is what music school was really good for actually. Sight-reading was always a "Should".

    Then one year I had two classes a week for 50 minutes each for just sight-reading. I was expected to read for 30 minutes each day outside of class.

    You know what........... I really made huge gains in my reading.

    Josh has made a reference to the late music educator Edwin Gordon. He wrote a whole body of work on this topic and has an institute in
    South Carolina.

    For those of you in the United States, I posted before on here the single most effective ----- holy shit, that is fucking amazing---thing I have ever done to improve my hearing outside of transcribing is this workshop


    I get nothing for this. She was a student of Nadia Boulangier and I think she still runs her course at Vanderbilt University in the summer.
    12 hours a day, 4-5 days a week. I went for three weeks, and man......... changed my life.

    Here is a review I did for it

  4. I would start here with the Forrest Gump music - https://mega.nz/#F!04gWFK7b!t88L8YnDWhmt60hYAmWAgQ!xtAghCLS The problem with arrangements is that sometimes significant liberties are taken and changes are made to the music.

    As far as transcribing goes, I'm not an expert. I admit I don't do it much. However, if you do want to transcribe I think you must develop your ear training skills. Singing like Doug mentioned above is great for that. If you want something quick and pretty decent for ear training, there is an app called Perfect Ear that someone recommended here or at VIC. I think it is a few dollars or something. It starts at the basics with interval recognition and goes from there. Not sure of your proficiency for that stuff, so apologies if it is something you already are good at.
    Eric Watkins likes this.
  5. Hey, thanks to all of you guys! I am really going to make a go at this stuff. Even when I am working hard, it still feels like I'm standing still overall. I really hope to make some progress in gaining new skills this year. @Patrick McClanahan, thank you. I will look at these more when I'm back in my studio at home!
  6. @Doug Gibson , thank you for the thoughtful reply. I will look at the link soon when I get a chance. I really appreciate the reply as well as the offer of help. If I can structure myself as you've mentioned, maybe I can post some of my beginner attempts at copying other's music and get some feedback on what I'm missing.
  7. Thanks Josh. I'll maybe give that a go.
  8. #8 Doug Gibson, Jan 1, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2020
    Yes, start a thread. Get a few people to join in. That can be a great way to stay focused and feel not so alone in the forest.

    I believe there were a few of those in the past.

    Eric: I mentioned about dividing what you practice. One of my few regrets I did not start earlier on is words. I was always into instrumental music.

    Here is an exercise to try.

    No Pitches

    Listen one time only to the following

    I think you will know it well. If not, pick something that you know you have locked in your memory.

    Print up the lyrics from the web and go get a seat in a quiet room and write out the rhythms and where they fall against the meter.

    The words that fall on 1 get the most emphasis.

    "Round off" any bad timing by the kids singing.

    The whole point is you begin tapping into your minds-ear. No computer anything is needed for this.
    Really, just the lyric sheet is all you need.
  9. #9 Doug Gibson, Jan 1, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2020
    to hopefully clarify even further what I meant

    Imagine (or draw on your paper) the beat of the meter

    1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 &

    now you can begin placing the words. Using a conducting pattern or tapping your hand on your lap can be very useful.
    For tapping hands on the lap I use a different spot for each beat, this way you feel the meter too. Not just ---tap, tap, tap.

    1 _  &   _   2  _    &     _3_   &      4         &           1        &
                                            Here's    a            Stor - y

    ****** ( Arghh. The text is shifting from what I wrote. Here's a - is 4 &. Story is on 1 &)

    Just keep going. Already you are training yourself to hear meter, pick-ups etc.

    You are creating a frame upon which you can hang the pitches.[/code]

  10. Code:
    1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1
    You can use     coooooooooooode tags

    Just write between (code) and (/code), but use the squared brackets.
    But you might want to first set the font family to "Courier New" (a monospaced font) to get the alignment preview in the text window right. Click that button to do that:

    Doug Gibson likes this.
  11. I haven’t had the time to go through the other replies and maybe what I’m going to say has been touched already. I had similar feelings when I started to transcribe orchestral music. After a few “wrong” transcriptions you train your brain to start recognizing the things you don’t hear. The goal should not be to get it 100% right but to learn common conventions and use them to fill in the gaps. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to hear everything in a score and that isn’t really necessary either. What’s more important is trying to understand your mistakes and why the composer went some other way instead.
    If you’re struggling to begin a transcription, think how you would orchestrate the piece and use that as a starting point.
    I don’t recommend transcribing in your DAW. Write it down on a page or use a notation software if you have one. The sooner you can start making some visual connection with the music the faster you’ll be able to learn and progress.

  12. Wow !!! You are awesome !!
  13. This is such a cool idea. I'm gonna make sure I do this every day for a random song.
  14. Hey guys, thanks for all the responses. I have been so swamped with life in general that I haven't had the time to delve into all of the info here, but it's about to be the weekend and I assure you your efforts won't be wasted on me. I will be checking all of this out. Thanks again!
    Doug Gibson likes this.

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