Hello, and welcome to a CPDmusic lesson on transcribing by ear. I had a request to do this lesson, and I will try to the best that I can. I say that because there isn’t a “golden rule to transcription” or something like those advertisements say. But, unlike popular belief, you don’t need perfect pitch to transpose by ear either. Sure, you need a half decent ear, but that is easily developed through listening to and playing music. You will also need lots of patients, because when you first start transcribing, you will probably be playing the first ten seconds of the song over and over and over again. But, as I said, there is no one way to transcribe by ear, so the best I can give you is tips, like the lesson title says. So, here we go.
What You Will Need:
First of all, you will obviously need a pen or pencil, and some music staff paper or tablature paper, to right down the music you transcribe. Also, you should have a guitar or some other musical instrument (your voice will work if you’re a good enough singer), to compare the notes you play, which you can identify, to the mystery notes in the song. It is also a good idea to have a metronome, especially if you are transcribing in actual musical notation in comparison to tabs, because you will actually need to know which notes are quarter notes, which are eighths, etc. It is also good to make sure you have a half decent recording of the song, not a live video you capture with your cell phone or something. Also, when your starting, you may want an audio editing program from some sort that will lets you manipulate the recording.
Finding The Tempo:
To find the tempo (the speed of the music), you will have to find the BPM, or beats per minutes. It’s the easiest part of transcription, and is quite simple. You know when you listen to a song, and you tap your toe to the pulse. Well, all you have to do is find out how many toe-taps you do in a minute to find the BPM. Just get a stop watch and get your toe tapping, and just time how many toe taps you complete in ten seconds for example. Than just multiply it by 6, because there is 60 seconds in a minute, and there’s your BPM. This is the number you will set your metronome to, and it should then match the pulse of the song. An alternate method is if you’re lucky enough to have a metronome with a “tap tempo” function. This means you just tap the tap tempo button to the pulse of the music, and it will automatically find the BPM for you.
The First Note:
The first note is also fairly easy. But, unless you have a good enough ear to simply identify what note it is, finding the first note is pretty much guess work. Just play the note over and over again, and play a note on your instrument that you think might be close to that note. Now, there are three outcomes: you got lucky and got it right on the first tray, the note you played is higher than the recording, or the note you played is lower than the recording. If you got the right note, than you’re obviously done this step. If your note is higher than the recording, play a lower note and compare, and if your note is lower than the recording, play a higher note and compare. Repeat this process until you have arrived at the correct note.
A Tip For The Rest Of The Notes:
When you’re first starting, the easiest way is to identify musical intervals. If you don’t know how to identify musical intervals, you will want to read my music intervals lesson. This process will involve you taking the first note, which you have already identified, and comparing it to the next. If you can identify that interval, you can identify the second note! For example, if the first note is a D, and the second note is minor third lower than that D, then the second note is a B! This may seem long and strenuous, but until you get the hang of ear transcription, it’s your only hope.
A Tip On Identifying Chords:
You will most likely run into chords in your transcribing days, so you will probably have to have some idea on how to identify them. Now, you don’t have to play the chord, but rather the root note. For example, if the chord is a G chord, the low G should sound in unison with it, although it is not as textured. From there, to determine whether it is major, minor, etc is up to your ear. Until your ear gets to the stage where you can actually separate the individual notes in a chord, you will have to rely on the feel of the chord (major chords sound happy, minor chords sound sad, etc.).
Some More Tips:
Now, I mentioned that it was a good idea to have an audio editing program before, which is where this comes in. Having a program like this can help you immensely. First of all, most audio editors enable looping features, which can come in handy. You will probably also be able to crop certain parts of the song out, which is good if you want to focus on just that part. Also, a lot of audio editors have the option to slow down the audio file. This is great if the song is to fast for you to catch all the notes. Now, if you don’t have an audio editing program, you can get one for free from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. It’s pretty basic compared to some of the retail, pro-grade audio editors you can get, but it has the ability to loop, crop, and slow down the audio file (plus much more), which is all you will really need in transcription.
One final thing is that you shouldn’t pick the craziest, fastest, face-melting song you know to start with. Don’t try to make your transcription debut with Through the Fire and the Flames, because you will soon realize it’s above your skill level. Use the KISS principal; Keep It Simple, Stupid! Start with a simple melody you know very well, like your countries national anthem, or the theme from that movie you watched ten-thousand times. The first song I ever transcribed was the theme from Indiana Jones.
Well, that’s pretty much all the advice I can give you. All you can do now is practice. But if you need help, I have published a simple melody on my YouTube channel. Also, feel free to send me a message, or E-mail me at CPDmusic@hotmail.com. That’s all for this lesson!
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