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Topic: How do you learn how to transcribe?  (Read 5171 times)

Offline ranjit

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How do you learn how to transcribe?
on: February 04, 2017, 01:33:10 PM
So, a few days ago, I found this video.



It seems this guy transcribed a Cziffra improvisation, by ear, in one week. I did not think this was humanly possible before I saw this video.

I used to think I had a pretty decent ear before I saw this. It made me kinda depressed.

Is it a common skill to be able to transcribe such pieces entirely by ear? Is there a way to learn doing this?

Offline vaniii

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #1 on: February 04, 2017, 01:58:18 PM
Is it a common skill to be able to transcribe such pieces entirely by ear? Is there a way to learn doing this?

No, not in the grand scheme.

You need to have an interest in composition; you need to know your harmony, even basically.

There are only so many chords:


Once you know the basic progressions and modulations, the next is key.

All this to understand music as it's own entity, not as something solely notated.

This then means you can do the reverse, write a score based on what you have heard; like most things, it requires training and practise.

Scales.

Offline visitor

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #2 on: February 04, 2017, 02:13:29 PM
Combo of skill training and practice. Music is a language but it shares a lot of similarity with math and science where guiding concepts can prevail.
Think like this, if you are very fluent in a language and someone gets up amd improvises a poem. Or a hip hop rap verse, could you take a recording of it and with lots of time re listening trascribe and wrie out what was said?

Very similar albeit more complex process because so many moving parts but with a recording fast sections could be slowed. Someone very fluent in theory and ear training and notation should be able to work it out.

Again time and effort with developed skill and natural talent all at play.

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #3 on: February 04, 2017, 03:08:07 PM
There are only so many chords:


I can transcribe most pop songs (i.e., transcribe the melody, find the chords, and make up a suitable accompaniment), quite comfortably.

I was referring to transcribing difficult piano music/entire orchestras. Is it possible to literally decipher every note played in the lowest registers? I don't think one would go about transcribing something like a Liszt Transcendental Etude, simply using chords.

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #4 on: February 04, 2017, 04:08:33 PM
I can transcribe most pop songs (i.e., transcribe the melody, find the chords, and make up a suitable accompaniment), quite comfortably.

I was referring to transcribing difficult piano music/entire orchestras. Is it possible to literally decipher every note played in the lowest registers? I don't think one would go about transcribing something like a Liszt Transcendental Etude, simply using chords.


It can be done, particularly with the aid of tempo-shifting software. It is hard work though. I have transcribed the Cziffra Carmen improvisation extract, albeit somewhat approximately, for my own use and also transcribed some of my own improvisation material. I believe there is software which can provide approximate transcription of recordings and, though I have no experience of using it, perhaps it provides a useful starting point to work from.

I should add that theoretical knowledge, an affinity for the underlying idiom, and a good ear (I have perfect pitch) are all considerable assets.
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Offline j_tour

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #5 on: February 04, 2017, 07:22:46 PM
With respect, I disagree that it's uncommon, or even very difficult.

It is difficult, but from my own experience and some talk with others who transcribe, I'd say that the best results come from taking a "cookie-cutter" approach.

At least that's the only way I can manage it.  

What I mean is do some SERIOUS "chunking."  Take your staff paper.  Write the bar lines out first.  I like four-to-a-staff-line, but that can admittedly get cramped, so use your judgment.  Pencil in the easy notes you know for sure first -- for example, notes that fall on a beat.  Use your ear to sketch out any complex rhythms as though you were writing a percussion part.  

Do as much as you can without using your instrument -- for me, the temptation to just start noodling and lose focus is pretty great!

Take full advantage of slow-down software.  I used to use a reel-to-reel to get half speed, an octave lower, but it's better now.  Recognize the limitations of trying to notate every micro-variation in rhythm when using this tool -- try to abstract what you hear at 1/2 or 1/4 speed into what could be notated more simply.

Do one voice at a time -- this applies to chords, polyphonic lines, anything.  

If applicable, for a sanity check, write out the harmonic roman numeral analysis above the bar lines/wherever it applies as part of your "planning" stage.

Yeah it can be done.

Yes, if you do it right, it will take quite a long time -- but measurable in cases I can think of in terms of hours and days, not many weeks or months.  I'm not talking transcribing long movements of a symphony, but something a little more reasonable in scope.

Oh yeah, and never trust your ear!  Always verify!  ETA but this means ALSO, always trust your ear in the beginning and final stages -- you, as a musician, should already know what chord quality is supposed to be reflected in the transcription, and the top and bottom notes in, say, a chord, are gimmes, so that should be part of the underlying knowledge. 

You're just filling in the blanks as a transcriber -- it's like a little puzzle, or a paint-by-numbers.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline vaniii

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #6 on: February 04, 2017, 07:57:42 PM
I was referring to transcribing difficult piano music/entire orchestras. Is it possible to literally decipher every note played in the lowest registers? I don't think one would go about transcribing something like a Liszt Transcendental Etude, simply using chords.

Seriously, even Liszt was a 'harmonic' composer; his music heavily decorated with ornamentation and quasi-cadenzas, nonetheless based firmly in harmony.

There are only three chords: I IV and V.  You can substitute secondary and tertiary chords to add chromaticism; even modulating to unrelated keys, but for a piece of music to work in tonality, it needs to be based in standard harmony, I, IV, and V.

Decorations consist of: pedal notes, passing notes, chromatic passing notes, auxilary notes, chromatic auxiliary notes, broken chords, arpeggios, appogiaturas, suspensions and so on.

The harmony is always structured.


Even tonally ambiguous pieces still have a harmonic structure that is disguised with chromatic notes.

The true difficulty would be transcribing a-tonal music, which even then you are thinking in intervals and the relationship between notes, not key structures.

---

PS: this is why at Grade 8 aural, you are expected to hear the difference between Tonic, Sub-dominant and Dominant in the various inversions; you ear should recognize these as a foundation for everything.

With respect, I disagree that it's uncommon, or even very difficult.

It is difficult, but from my own experience and some talk
...

Personal bias; because you can does not mean others can too, or at the very least, not have some difficulty.

Dictation is a standard component for music students at further and higher education; the majority of them discard it as soon as they can for what they want to do with music.  A few will continue, usually those interested in composition and improvisation.

That said, the majority of transcriptions online are pretty dire; please review sheet music databases for popular songs from film and computer games.  The orchestration is terrible focusing on the notes and perhaps some rhythm; some lack dynamics or articulation.  I pick some of these up and scratch my head, simply because it needs editing.

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #7 on: February 04, 2017, 08:22:16 PM
Everyone here seems to be talking about slowing down the piece.
That sounds like cheating to me ;D
What do you think about transcribing such pieces at tempo?

In my experience, piano pieces often become messy and unintelligible when slowed down (I've seen this consistently on Youtube; professional software may fare better).
I also often find it impossible to figure out the constituent notes when a lot of pedal is used, even if the piece is not particularly difficult.

Do orchestra conductors have to learn this sort of thing? I've heard that they need a very well-developed ear.

Offline keypeg

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #8 on: February 04, 2017, 08:45:59 PM
That said, the majority of transcriptions online are pretty dire..
Every once in a while, one of my teacher's teen students will come in with some piece of usually "non-classical" music that was transcribed for free by somebody.  Note values and time signatures will be awkward, especially since such music doesn't necessarily stay in one time signature.  You might have a B which should be Cb or some other convention that would make the music easier to follow.  Spacing may be horrendous.  He often rewrites and cleans up such messes, for students to see the difference, and I've seen a number of "befores" and "afters".  It can be quite enlightening and educational in a practical way about music theory that goes beyond the usual.

Offline j_tour

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #9 on: February 04, 2017, 09:09:21 PM
I didn't see a multi-quote button, or I wasn't paying attention, so I'll just respond. 

Egad.  Maybe that undercuts my point about "most people" or "easy," since, yep.  Most transcriptions you can find online are "not just awful, but god-awful."  Not just single-voice transcriptions of jazz solos, but even just chord charts for pop tunes.  I think there's a lesson in there somewhere, but I wouldn't know how to phrase it in a way that didn't make it sound like most people are idiots.

Yes, I've heard the "cheating" thing about slow-down tech like record-players and reel-to-reel tape machines and the software.  I guess it depends how you use it -- for me, I'd rather use it if it helps get results, but then again my goal is not "perform every piece ever written at half-speed then speed it up for my Sony Classical record," so it doesn't seem like cheating to me.  It seems more like ear-training to me.

And another reason that it's not "cheating" is that, yes, indeed, if you slow things down on playback, very often it becomes an almost-unlistenable pile of sludge.  That's why I recommend "chunking" as a first and indispensable step -- you use slow-down as kind of a "verify" stage, after you've written down all the rhythms on a scratch piece of paper, all the roman numeral analysis, and all that.  It's like a microscope -- you wouldn't try to f*** your partner after first examining his or her "bits" with at the molecular level, right?
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #10 on: February 04, 2017, 10:22:23 PM
It surely needs to be stressed that the OP is not talking about transcription of trivial material, which any musician with a decent ear should be able to do readily, but about transcribing by ear very "busy", virtuoso material.
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Offline indianajo

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #11 on: February 05, 2017, 02:31:49 AM

Yes, I've heard the "cheating" thing about slow-down tech like record-players and reel-to-reel tape machines and the software.  I guess it depends how you use it -- for me, I'd rather use it if it helps get results, but then again my goal is not "perform every piece ever written at half-speed then speed it up for my Sony Classical record," so it doesn't seem like cheating to me.  It seems more like ear-training to me.

And another reason that it's not "cheating" is that, yes, indeed, if you slow things down on playback, very often it becomes an almost-unlistenable pile of sludge.  
I've done it to a George Winston piece off the December album. Not exactly Liszt, but hard enough.  Took me 80 hours or so for 7+ pages to perform, back when I had NO  ear training for chord structure.  
As far as half speed causing sludge sound, garbage in garbage out.  You-tube is full of vile recordings made with cell phones which I usually tune out of after about three bars. Cell phone recording is so bad on piano.  
For my transcription,  I played an original LP through my high quality pickup and preamp, into a Sony 1970 1/4" RTR tape player.  Then I slowed it down half speed and listened with my <1% distortion power amp, into a pair of headphones.   Sounded pretty exactly like he was playing down an octave, IMHO.  At half speed.  No, the pings of the Bosendoerfer weren't as beautiful at half speed, but the pitches were quite recognizable.  
Then I used a #2 pencil and wrote on staff paper.  Bars drawn as I went, to fit what was going on.  After writing a bit I would plunk on the piano to see if I had got it right.  It helped that after I quit calling the proff tuner, I was tuning my piano to standard pitch, not some quickie compromise ~1/4 tone flat he was tuning it to.  Notes on record were right on pitch that way.
Software now allows this slowing down to half speed I suppose, but I would hope to start with something better than an MP3 file.  Some of them are almost okay, but the emphasis is on almost. MP3 is compressed to leave out a lot of data and still sound "good".  Listening at half speed was not one of the design goals of the process.  
I'm still laying in used LP's, for the good sound, and throwing away the ones that were damaged by $200 stereos with heavy arms, dust or dirt, or bad needles. There is not so much damage on classical records, which sold mostly to rich people.  Also nuts like me that think a great hifi system is more important than furniture or snazzy clothes.    Properly engineered CD's aren't bad either, but pop music mostly is engineered to drown out the radio of car in the next lane on the expressway.  The Windham Hill recording mentioned above was properly engineered in both formats.    
BTW my ears aren't "golden" , but I certainly know what a good piano is supposed to sound like.  I own two of them.  Driving my hifi every closer to sounding like a piano on speakers with the proper LP or CD has been a goal of the years since I quit working.  Hint to students and the young- listening on headphones avoids a lot of the distortions inherent in consumer grade speakers and amps.  

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #12 on: February 05, 2017, 01:20:59 PM
Sounded pretty exactly like he was playing down an octave, IMHO.

If you can hear the bass notes of a Bosendorfer shifted down an octave, you must have superhuman hearing skills. :o

Offline dcstudio

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #13 on: February 05, 2017, 03:36:28 PM
I can only speak from my own experience and add to what's been said already.  Like anything else, transcribing becomes easier the more you do it. Spend enough time at it and nothing escapes your ear, regardless of how quickly it is played or how many voices there are. Simply hearing it isn't enough though. You must know and recognize what it is you are hearing. Additionally, you must be able to recognize large groups of notes and see them as a single entity. This takes an extensive theory vocabulary and a lot of ear training.  An ability to play by ear is also paramount.
Don't be afraid to slow it down...it's not "cheating."  If you are commissioned to transcribe a piece of music do you think they will care if you slowed it down? As long as the transcription is accurate who cares how you personally do it.

Holding on to some idealized concept of how "real musicians do it" will only hold you back. Find out how you can do it and then work on streamlining that process and making it more efficient.

Offline j_tour

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #14 on: February 08, 2017, 07:36:30 PM
It surely needs to be stressed that the OP is not talking about transcription of trivial material, which any musician with a decent ear should be able to do readily, but about transcribing by ear very "busy", virtuoso material.

That's a valid point. 

I suppose there are two schools of thought, at least:  does one method rule them all, with the addition of heuristics for special cases, or is there to be a difference in kind when it comes to transcribing music of differing complexity.

I don't think so.  I think doing things like recognizing chord qualities, where applicable, organizing one's workspace (for example, a page of staff paper), and doing as much preparatory work away from one's instrument, so as to preserve focus, is the rule, and is good for every circumstance.

I am also Batman.

I'd like to agree with you, however, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe -- seasoned musicians who couldn't play "Happy Birthday" or a jingle peddling some breakfast cereal in F# they heard on TV, or the equivalent of "hum a few bars."  I've even seen blues pianists who won't play in B natural -- I was once one myself.

Nice thing about transcribing is that the methods everybody uses (except for those few freaks who hear EVERYTHING with amazing memory) is applicable to just about anything one is likely to want to decipher.

Still unclear about Messiaen's work with birdsongs and staff paper, but whatever.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: How do you learn how to transcribe?
Reply #15 on: February 08, 2017, 09:12:21 PM



I'd like to agree with you, however, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe -- seasoned musicians who couldn't play "Happy Birthday" or a jingle peddling some breakfast cereal in F# they heard on TV, or the equivalent of "hum a few bars."  I've even seen blues pianists who won't play in B natural -- I was once one myself.




Lol... very true. 
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