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Transcription Retrospective: Yu Yu Hakusho main theme (1992)

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Eric Nething, Nov 21, 2022 at 12:15 AM.

  1. I attempted to transcribe the main theme to the 1992 Japanese television show Yu Yu Hakusho, Hohoemi no Bakudan (Smile Bomb), over the course of about one week. The transcription is attached as a PDF below, and the original song is included for your listening pleasure here. I have no formal training in music, and only know piano basics such as scales and triad chords. Here is how it went, and what I learned from it.

    I made the following mistakes which I later corrected:
    • wrong key signature
    • wrong time signature
    • wrong melodic intervals
    The only thing I got right near the beginning was the basic rhythm, but even that presented some challenges with respect to how it should be notated. I used rests instead of articulation markings such as staccato, since the melody is a singer's voice.

    Melody and Key Signature

    I began at the piano, just trying to figure out the melody. Originally, I thought it was in the key of Bb major, and I used the wrong intervals for the melody. This is because I tried to transcribe from memory, and not by ear. I did not fix this until almost a week later, when I watched a video of someone playing an improvisation of the song on piano, and noticed the key signature was different. I tried it out on my piano, and confirmed that I had the wrong key signature, and the wrong melodic intervals. After this correction, I was able to easily transcribe the rest of the melody by playing piano alongside the audio, making sure to play directly over the singer's voice.

    The best method I found to accurately transcribe the melody was to sing the song as close as possible to the original vocalist as I played along on piano. This allowed me to avoid tedious tasks such as rewinding the audio or looping the same 2 bars 100 times, which quickly drove me mad. I spent a lot of time singing the song in Japanese, which was fun.

    Note: I transposed the melody up one octave to make it easier to play on the piano.

    Time Signature

    I originally thought the time signature was 5/4 for some reason. This led me to search for tricks to figure out the time signature. I learned about down-beats and up-beats, and that it is possible to use the drum rhythm to figure out the time signature by listening for the down beat, which should always be the first beat in a measure, and is played by the kick drum. The up-beat is played by the snare. I took a detour to learn about drum kits, and how drums are played.


    To figure out the chords, I had to take another detour to learn about bass guitars, and how a bass line works. I learned that the bass line determines the chord and its inversion. I attempted to isolate the bass guitar using an EQ filter, but was unable to figure out what was happening with it, despite playing along with my piano and a bass guitar virtual instrument. I found a clever tool called Wave Candy (included in FL Studio) which is a spectrum analyzer that makes it easier to see the notes (and chords) being played, as long as you adjust the settings to isolate a specific instrument. I may use this on future transcriptions for which there is no available score, but by the time I found it, I was tired of working on this song.

    I ended up writing my own chord progression for the song at the piano, which was a lot of fun. I mainly used a VI-iv-III-i progression, with a v and v+ thrown in for some spice. This was my favorite part of the process, as the previous week was quite miserable, since I must have looped 1-bar or 2-bar slices of the audio hundreds of times each, and listened to the entire song at least 50 times.


    I started on paper, and soon moved to Lilypond, which taught me a lot about how to correctly use notation. I spent a lot of time reading the Lilypond notation reference manual. I added ties where appropriate, and slurs for melisma (a vowel held over multiple notes which change pitch). I didn't understand how these were used until now.


    Overall, this was a valuable experience because of everything that I learned along with way, but the next time I transcribe a song, I will approach it in a completely different way to avoid unnecessary and tedious time wasters. I will also make sure to transcribe music that has the complete score available. Right now, I am studying classical scores closely, because I don't know what I don't know yet, and it seems a better use of my time to learn the vocabulary before attempting to invent a language from scratch to imitate what I hear.

    I am still curious to know if anyone can figure out the actual chords used in this song.

    Attached Files:

    Nico Bellisario likes this.
  2. #2 Nico Bellisario, Nov 23, 2022 at 10:36 AM
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2022 at 12:08 AM
    Finally another anime music lover. And I love this song!
    I compose JPop-JRock music (almost as a living) . I also posted a couple of tracks for critique which garnered a grand total of 0 feedbacks (lol).

    Hopefully I can help you on this one.
    This tune is in line with your "typical" Japanese chord progression, with loads of interesting changes.
    At times it has very few indications of what actually the chord is, and so I mainly went with what is the "implied" harmony. Also it might not be completely accurate on the coloring tones an some quick passing (implied) passing chords i might have skipped, but if you play this you can definitely recognize most of the nuanced colors of the original track.
    I use the Actual opening as bases (1:30 sec version).

    Also I am not musically trained so you gotta use your intuition on the following chord chart.

    As a suggestion: don't use any tools to figure out chords, do it by ear as best as you can and then check the official (or closest one) to see what u got wrong.
    Train your ears not your eyes. It will be the greatest gift you can give to yourself!


    Abmaj7 - Gm7 - Cm7- Cm7
    Abmaj7 - Bb713 - Cm7 - Bbm7- Eb


    Abmaj7- Bbsus11/G - Fm7 x2

    Abmaj7 - Bb - Gm- F#dim
    rapidly changing groups of 3 chords:
    Fm7-Gm7- Abmaj7
    Abm7/Eb - Ddim- Cm7
    now normal time again prepping up the chorus:
    Ab- Bb

    Chorus x2
    Abmaj7 - G7 - Cm7- Cm7
    Abmaj7 - Bb713 - Cm7- Bbm7- Eb

    Ab- Bb7

    Eric Nething likes this.
  3. Thanks for the chord chart, Nico! I realize that I need to practice listening to the sound of each chord. I've started doing that at the piano (and with some fun electric pianos and synths) to become more familiar with it. I'm going to play your chord chart to figure out the inversions.

    I found another song with an incredible sounding melody/chord progression from Hiroyuki Sawano titled YouSeeBIGGIRL/T:T. I was able to find a transcription of the chord progression, but I don't know about the accuracy of it. The vocalist gives an unbelievable performance of this song in the Attack on Titan suite (best part begins at 11:14), and I had to know how she achieved such powerful emotion with such gentle singing. This led me to spend a lot of time playing chord progressions and inversions at the piano. However, I have been unable to recreate the same sound as in that song.

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