The Benefits of Transcribing

I started playing guitar well before we had the Internet. The only way to learn a song was to buy the songbook (most of my favourite songs weren't in print), or to work it out yourself. I spent almost as long working out songs as I did actually playing the guitar, but I believe these were in no way a waste of my time.

It certainly has come in handy and helped with my song writing, improvisation, learning songs for my gigs and students, working out something after I had improvised it, and as a service to help other players learn songs that are not offered accurately elsewhere.

Now, we have countless websites helping players learn songs, using tabs, video lessons etc. This is clearly a great tool for all players. However the on-line transcriptions on offer are only as good as the transcriber's ear, and virtually anyone can upload a song tab to a site, so it's important to know if the tab is accurate.

This is where ear training, including transcribing comes into it's own. If you have developed a good ear you can at least hear that the transcription, when played is correct, close, or very wrong. And if there are no tabs for the song you want to learn, you can at least do it yourself.

Just like any skill, transcribing music takes regular practice, but the more we do it, the more acutely our ears start picking out important things such as hearing the difference between a fast slide (glissando) and a hammer-on, or hearing the tone quality that gives away which string a note is really being played on etc.

Here are some tips for those of you who are interested in starting-out transcribing music:
  • Set aside just 5-10 minutes of time daily to transcribe something-anything!
  • Start with simple melodies, slow solos, single note riffs etc.
  • Use technology to help-you can slow down fast passages or loop them to aid in working out notes.
  • Take-up general ear training to compliment your transcribing skills.
  • Every time you play anything on guitar, really listen to the notes and try to familiarise yourself with them.

Music is an art form based on sounds, so every musician should be working on hearing notes and rhythms as well as they possibly can to aid in reaching their musical goals. To not do so would be like a painter who can't recognise colours very well. Not an ideal scenario.

Happy transcribing!
Martyn