How to Transcribe, and the Benefits of Doing it (Part 1)

Transcribing has already been proven as one of the most important process of music learning, not just in jazz but in any other music. It enables you to learn the secrets and all those killer chops the musician you admire is doing in any particular part of a song. It is also a good training for your ears. Everyone’s heard of the saying, “practise makes perfect”, but many still don’t know what is to be practised exactly when it comes to playing jazz, well, here’s your answer: transcribe.

Choosing what to transcribe is a very important decision, trascribing the right song can both be saving your time and an enlightening experience, whereas the wrong choice will be time consuming and frustrating. To give you a better idea, I have chosen Bill Evans solo on the famous standard Body and Soul to transcribe for this post, and I will tell you why,

1) Bill Evans uses mainly single note melody lines in his right hand during solo, which is always a good thing to transcribe. You wouldn’t want to be transcribing the solo part when a pianist is slamming on chords with both hands, it is relatively a tedious and time consuming task, especially when the chords played does not demonstrate any interesting harmony to be analyzed or learnt. However, if you are looking for some really clean cut, single note, precise timing and glitchless piano solo to transcribe, one good example I can give you is Chick Corea. Do check it out if you have the time.

2) A song played by a three piece band is, in most cases, easier to transcribe compared to a bigger band setup. When trascribing, we usually want as little percussion sound as possible, unless we are actually transcribing the percussion part. Anyone who has done some transcribing before knows that percussion sound clouds the frequency in a song. Even drum hits have certain pitch in them, a snare drum hit looped repeatedly sometimes might even be heard as a note, or at the least, it might be producing some overtones that might be heard as a note. However, things like strings or choir sounds are most of the time very desirable also, mainly because the notes played by them are mostly sustained, making it much easier for the transcriber. A sustained note is always easier for the ear to catch, compared to a short staccato hit.

3) There is always something interesting to learn in Bill Evans’ solo, the harmony he is subsituting or implying, the scales he used to create tensions. Transcribing a solo that uses plainly a major scale or a blues scale throughout will be quite boring over a long period. Of course, learning a very catchy blues lick here and there might be interesting sometimes, or maybe the soloist is trying something interesting rhythmically. But at the end of the day, transcribing a 48 bars solo that uses only one scale throughout won’t be a very entertaining experience.

4)  I mentioned in previous post about how Bill Evans’ bassist is not a player who would settle for just hitting the lowest note of the chord on the appropriate beat, sometimes even soloing along with Bill. This will of course make transcibing work harder. But since I am interested to see how the bassist worked also, so I see it as a plus instead of an obstacle. However, if you are just starting out on this transcribing thing, you may want to start with a pop or rock song, which has  well emphasized bass notes in most of them.

5) Listen also to the rhythmic placement of the notes in the solo, to have a rough idea of how much time you will be spending on working out the rhythmic part. A string of eight notes is always easier to transcribe, compared to a funky solo which uses lots of syncopated sixteenth notes. This point, together with the first point mentioned earlier contribute to the fact that a bebop horn solo is, in most cases, nice to transpose. A horn can only produce one note at a time, bebop solos are mainly string of eight notes.

Anyway, to wrap up this post here is a short clip of bill evans solo which I transcribed, together with the transcription in pdf format. Enjoy and have fun….

Bill Evans Body and Soul Solo Sound Clip

Bill Evans Body and Soul solo transcription

Related post :

How to Transcribe, and the Benefits of Doing it (Part 2)

Transcribe! A Brief Review

Joe Sample Solo Transcription on Carmel

Bill Evans Autumn Leaves Solo Transcription


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