Chapter 10 – Transcription

A hand writing music on a chalk boardThere are many situations where it’s useful to write down music you hear. Marching band directors and a cappella group arrangers, for example, transcribe popular music for their ensembles. Jazz musicians transcribe their idols’ solos to learn about their approach to improvisation.

There are also benefits to transcription that are less immediately practical. In particular, it can strengthen the connections between what you hear, your internalized models of how music works, and notation, in ways that can make all of your music-making more intuitive and effective.

Fortunately, we’ve already worked on all the skills we will need to do transcription. Unfortunately, transcription involves a lot of components, making it potentially overwhelming. We’ll take it a step at a time; anytime you feel stuck or unsure of what to do, comes back to these steps.

There are times when we transcribe with the aid of an instrument and maybe even software playback, and other times when we need to make do with just our ears and maybe a pencil and paper. As practice activities, both have benefits for building your skills. Nevertheless, it is more common that instructors ask students to work without an instrument or playback because this requires you to stretch your skills more.

Finally, when doing transcriptions, melodies tend to be easiest, while transcribing inner voices or bass lines often requires the addition of different, specialized skills. Much of this chapter will address transcription skills in general; the additional skills needed for non-melody lines will be reserved for later in the chapter.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to…

  1. Determine an appropriate meter and key for music they wish to transcribe.
  2. Describe the processes necessary to transcribe.
  3. Use protonotation to represent pitches within a key and rhythms within a meter.
  4. Compare pitches to the key center in order to come up with an appropriate representation in pitch notation.
  5. Compare rhythms to internalized rhythmic cells and an established meter in order to come up with an appropriate representation in metric notation.
  6. Transcribe bass lines.
  7. Transcribe inner voices when appropriate.



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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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