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Picks Transcription Workshop: The Art of Transcription

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The ability to transcribe, or write down on paper what you hear on a recording, is one of the most valuable tools a musician can possess. Why? For starters it enables you to learn directly from the masters via their recorded works. Harmony books are great, and books of scales are useful, but if you want to get inside the head of an improviser and really try to understand why he/she made those particular note choices, nothing is better than transcribing them in action.

When you are able to write down or even just learn by ear at first what someone is playing on a recording that you dig, it is just like taking a private lesson with that person. In fact it’s probably much better because there are no personality issues to contend with, and it’s a hell of lot cheaper too! You are going right to the source, no middlemen, just you and a recording of your favorite piano solo, bass line, guitar solo, whatever! You can sit down with your digital transcribing machine, your instrument, some music notation paper, a pencil and an erasure (yeah you will need an erasure) and take a private lesson with anyone you admire whenever you feel like it. All of their musical ideas are there for you to study and absorb.

Transcribing is also the best ear training that there is in my opinion. It makes you concentrate on recognizing intervals, bass lines, chord progressions, rhythms, and single note lines. All of these can have direct applications to “on the gig” situations. For example, if someone calls a tune that you don’t know, you can follow the root motion of the pianist, hear and recognize the chord types and forms that are in the tune you’re playing. These are extremely useful things to be able to pull off on the spot. When you transcribe regularly, you focus in on these skills and refine them so that they can become available to you in an instant. Most of us aren’t blessed with perfect pitch, but having a highly refined sense of relative pitch can be about 90% -99% as useful.

How does one actually begin to transcribe? It starts by choosing a relatively simple piece of music, whether it is a melody to a song, a part of an improvisation, and just diving in. You should be able to read and write music notation and having a basic knowledge of music theory is helpful; especially knowledge of musical intervals, but it is not required to just get started. You can learn as you go and practice on your instrument or a piano playing chords, scales, intervals, etc. But what is required is the ability to listen very closely to a series of notes and recreate those notes exactly on your instrument, and hopefully, on the written page as well. You might start out by transcribing a melody to a tune you like, or a solo lick you want to learn. It’s up to you.

Tools of the Trade:

a) Music Paper/ (To Read or Not to Read)
b) Pencil & Erasure, no pens!
c) *High quality digital transcribing machine
d) High quality set of headphones
e) Using Your Instrument to Find the Notes

Some players transcribe without writing anything down on music notation paper. This is OK especially for the more experienced player who just wants to grab a specific lick or melody that he/she heard and can just commit it to memory. But for the beginning-intermediate player, writing the notes down is pretty much the entire goal of transcribing so please, learn basic music notation even you start out just using your ear. At first, you’ll make a lot of mistakes, that’s fine, but write the notes and rhythms as best you can. Even if you know it’s wrong, write it down anyway. That’s how you will get better and make fewer mistakes. A good thing to do at first is to have an accurate transcription of the piece you’re working on so that you can compare your work to the correct version and see where you went wrong. Use pencil of course, pen is OK for final drafts but you will be doing a lot of erasing at first.

To Read or Not to Read (My 2 Cents):

In my opinion the complete musician should be able to both write down what they hear and play the music back by just using their ears. Strive to be a player who has “elephant ears” and can hear the subtlest changes AND a player who can sight-read his/her ass off. By all means ignore musicians who say learning to read and write music is unimportant. That is ridiculous! It is akin to saying don’t bother learning to read and write English, it’s not that important. You’ll be regaled with stories of famous players who never learned to read. SO WHAT? I don’t know any of those guys who would tell up and coming players “Hey, don’t bother learning to read music! It’s a big waste and will get in the way of your career.” That’s just insane. Strive to become an excellent reader.

Treat music like you would the English language. All the same rules apply. Proper grammar, syntax, tenses; all have their counterparts in the language of written music. Great sidemen bassists like Will Lee and Anthony Jackson have each played on thousands of recordings. Do they both have big ears? No doubt. Can they sight-read music that would terrify 99% of professional bass players? What do you think? That is why players like AJ and Will Lee are legends. They are legends because they can do it all and still put their unique stamp and style on everything they play. OK, you get the message, now back to transcribing.

The digital transcriber (no, I don’t have an endorsement, but I should!) I use is made by Reed Kotler. www.reedkotler.com

Reed sells several excellent digital transcribing machines that all allow you to record a piece of music from a CD, tape deck, MP3, IPOD, etc say in 90 second chunks, and then slow it down incrementally, without distorting the pitch at all. This is extremely useful for very fast passages. Some things you hear on recordings go by so fast (John McLaughlin’s solos comes to mind) that having the ability to slow them down is very useful. Many older “Rockman” type tape decks have a speed control that you can use to slow the tape down. However older, analog type, tape machines tend to distort the pitch. The newer digital transcribing machines or computer software allows you to slow the music down without and pitch loss is highly recommended. After you have a good machine to do your transcribing, the next thing you need is a high quality set of headphones. Good headphones are always worth the money and I would spend as much as you can afford on a really good quality set of studio type headphones.


I prefer to transcribe with my instrument on hand.
Some experienced transcribers sometimes have the ability to transcribe without any tools other than their ears. At first though it is a good idea to have whatever instrument you play with you to check your accuracy. As I mentioned before, the more theoretical information you have, the faster you will be able to recognize things like root motion, intervals, and chord progressions. If your goal is to transcribe somebody’s individual solo on a particular song, it is helpful to know the chords that are in that song.

If it is a standard type tune, you may be able to find the chord progression in some type of fake book. These progressions are notoriously inaccurate however, and can’t always be depended on. Also, there are often substitutions that the artists make in his/her solo and you will want to know what those are. It may be a good idea to transcribe just the chord progression of a particular song first before attempting the solo.

The best way to begin recognizing chord progressions is to get near a piano or guitar. Play the various chord types, (major, minor, altered, dominant, diminished, augmented, and sus 4 etc) and get these sounds in your ear. Be able to recognize the difference between them. Listen for the “color” tones such as the 9th, 11th, or 13ths. These tones are often altered in some way especially in the improvisation. After you have the chords, you will be ready for the solo itself.

Qualities to Strive for:

a) Melodic Accuracy – Starting notes, correct octave, avoiding 2 clefs, key signature, song forms, accidentals
b) Legibility – Rough drafts, software, Photoshop etc.
c) Rhythmic Accuracy – Doing purely rhythmic transcriptions first, counting w/ your fingers, tips, & tricks. Time Signatures, Knowing when to take a break

Be aware of the meter/time signature and form of the song. This is the skeleton upon which the person is hanging their improvisation. I recommend taking no more than two measures at one time to work with. Listen for the starting note. Sing it to yourself. Singing is crucial. After you sing the note find it on your instrument. Write it down. Fast! Before you forget! After that it’s a matter of hearing the intervals. Where does it go from the first note? Is it a whole step? A minor third? This also requires practice. Play all the different intervals on your instrument. Become comfortable with recognizing them and their different sounds. I do not use key signatures when transcribing solos as a general rule. They just get in the way. Remember though, that a note that has been altered (flatted or sharped) is altered for the entire bar unless it is altered again. This is really crucial to remember.

Be sure you are transcribing your music in the proper octave. Try to avoid using two clefs in the same piece. Piano music is often an exception to this. Bass solos played in the very high register will usually end up in treble clef to avoid using ledger lines, which are hard to read and to write. Which brings me to the importance of legibility. If you are using Finale, or any number of music writing soft ware programs then this isn’t much of a concern. But some old timers (like me) still prefer to transcribe by hand. Crazy, I know. So get used to doing several drafts of the transcription before you put your name on it. I use Photoshop to get rid of smudges and the like which also helps. There is no one, single, “correct” way to transcribe per se. The only thing that matters is that the transcription is as accurate as you can make it. I can’t tell you how many emails I get telling me that missed ONE note in the 34th bar of Jaco’s solo on some tune. Transcribing after all is an art. Yes it should be as accurate as possible but there will always be discrepancies between transcriptions. It is NOT and exact science, not in jazz anyway.

Pay close attention to the rhythms. This is a whole other field of study in and of itself. If you plan on accurately notating the solo, the rhythms are going to be crucial. Many times it is the rhythm of what you are transcribing that makes it so compelling. The notes may be ordinary in the sense that they are within the scale of that particular chord but the rhythm of it is what makes it special. I occasionally will do what I call a complete rhythmic transcription. By that I mean I’ve written down the rhythms first and then gone back and just plugged the notes in. This is a useful technique especially if rhythms are your weak area. Use your fingers to tap out the beats and watch where a note starts. Is it the downbeat of 2 or the “and” of 2? Tapping along seems silly but it has gotten me out of many a jam.

Another crucial aspect of transcribing is knowing when you need to stop and rest. Take frequent breaks to rest your ears. That passage you just can’t seem to get right get will be clear, as can be when you listen to it the next day. The brain absorbs it all, it’s all in there don’t worry. You just have to take a rest now and then. If you are really stuck, move on to the next line. You can also go back and connect the dots so to speak. Look for patterns in the lines. Players tend to repeat themselves. Also use the chord symbols to help you. Knowing the scale of the moment will many times enable you to deduce what the next note should be.

Most of all though, if you haven’t transcribed something before, don’t be afraid. You really can do it. When you begin to transcribe you will see a whole new world of information opening up. It will be very frustrating at times. It will be monotonous at times. It sometimes will seem like you will never get those two measures no matter how many times you listen to it! Persevere though. The rewards are well worth it.

Ready to try your hand at transcribing? Click on the link below to download the 2nd part of the lesson!
The_Art_of_Transcription

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @loritabassworks @meridian_guitars @alpherinstruments @phdbassguitars @mgbassguitars @mauriziouberbasses @utreraguitars @sugi_guitars @branco_luthier @blasiusguitars

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New Gear:  D’Addario’s New Humidipak

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New Gear:  D’Addario’s New Humidipak

D’Addario’s New Humidipak Absorb Protects Instruments Against Excess Moisture…

Utilizing two-way humidity control technology, D’Addario’s new Humidipak Absorb protects against damage to wooden instruments in environments with too much humidity. 

Humidipak Absorb allows players to safely return an instrument and case to the ideal relative humidity level. Using Boveda’s patented two-way humidity control technology, Absorb automatically soaks up excess moisture at a safe rate, re-establishing the right humidity level and eliminating the guesswork of revitalizing your instrument. 

Like all the Humidipaks before, using Humidipak Absorb is easy—there’s no dripping sponges or manual adjustments. All players need to do is put the humidification packets in the included pouches and place them in the instrument case, close the lid, and relax. The instrument and case will remain at the optimal 45-50% relative humidity level for 2-6 months. 

D’Addario’s other Humidipaks, Restore and Maintain, are still available for those who need to increase and sustain the humidity around their instrument. 

To learn more about Humidipak Absorb, visit ddar.io/absorb-pr 

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