Transcription Trek

My 5 month mission - to get a handle on transcription!

I’ve resisted transcription for some time. Partly because it seems so hard. Partly because the benefits only seem obvious to those who have already mastered it. Partly because of my habit of procrastination - which I’ll deal with tomorrow! But Hayden’s comment in one of his videos struck me as blindingly-true. He said that if we were studying poetry, literarure, art or indeed any creative venture we would study the masters, read their poems and writings, and study their paintings. It follows that if we want to develop proficiency in improvisation we should study the improvisations of the jazz masters.

So I started a few weeks ago by listening to a recording of Tony Bennett singing “The way you look tonight” with pencil and empty score, intending to transcribe Ralph Sharon’s beautiful piano accompaniment. How hard could it be? I’m pretty good at nailing intervals. It would probably take an hour or so.

I couldn’t do it. After an hour I had barely put pencil to paper. It was HARD!

So I did what I should have done in the first place. Worked my way through Hayden’s 6 courses on transcription. (OPENING Menu > Lessons > intermediate courses> How to transcribe by ear). I downloaded “Transcribe”, the software he describes in lessons 3 and 4. I also downloaded Gihosoft’s “TubeGet” to download video and MP3s from YouTube which you can then open in “Transcribe”.

And Bingo! Here I am:

The next thing is to learn the software. Hayden explains some of it in his 4th video. There is also a good summary video here by guitarist Ariane Cap that explains the many options and shortcuts.

That’s where I am right now. Since I’m starting transcription from scratch I thought I’d post the journey stumbles and all and if anyone wants to hike along with me I’d be glad of the company. :slightly_smiling_face:

Great idea for a thread Greg and I look forward to hearing on your progress.

Yes I find that to be a nice analogy for the matter at hand.

If one was to take a masterpiece painting and try to replicate it, it’s highly unlikely that the first attempt would be note-worthy. However, with consistent and focused study, each attempt would be better and better.

As I mentioned in another thread, just chipping away at the task each day is the way to go.

An additional point is that ‘studying’ doesn’t have to be an intense listening/transcription exercise with pen and paper in hand. Of course that is part of the task but casually listening to the recording(s) whilst doing other things, cooking or driving for example, is also very productive.

I also like using The Amazing Slow Downer app. I find the Spotify integration handy and the app also has an intuitive loop/start/end point interface that I use whilst at the piano, and away from the piano. If I want to listen to a certain section of a recording on repeat for example, it’s very easy to set that up on my phone in just a few clicks.

Finally, can you share a link to the recording of “The Way You Look Tonight” that you are working on? I’d love to listen to it and give some more tips and suggestions on how I would approach it. Cheers.

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My 2 cents…transcription has helped me a lot for ear training, really learning a tune well, and of course improv.

I found it easiest to start off gradually: Tuomo’s ear training exercises followed by solos followed by (in some cases) a nearly complete transcription, e.g. to really understand Bill Evans’ changes on the head of a tune.

For me it has been really helpful to transcribe with MuseScore rather than use pencil and paper. It’s easier to organize and keep track of what I’ve done, copy and paste sections, and correct mistakes. Biggest help is that I can transcribe on the couch or on a bus so it’s very efficient and breaks up a “practice session”, e.g. 45 min at the keyboard in the morning and 15-30 min transcribing later in the day while traveling or relaxing on the couch.

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Day 2.
Thanks @Hayden.
I’m working on Ralph Sharon’s accompaniment to Tony Bennett here
I sat down at the piano for 1.5 hours yesterday and got the first 8 bars. The second 8 came today in slightly less time. I work at the piano with my headphones and laptop running “Transcribe”. I have a clipboard with BIG STAVES - the kind you would give to a child of 6 just starting the piano - so I have plenty of room to place the notes. When I finish I copy it all into “Musescore”. So now I’m up to the end of the first A section. (If someone has an easier routine please post)
Screenshot (14)
The score so far is just piano notes. I haven’t yet added the bass. He also plays many of the chords broken or arpeggiated but I haven’t notated that yet.
Tony Bennett sings it in C. It’s usually played in F. There’s an option on “Transcribe” to change the pitch but bringing it down a fifth made it very muddy so I didn’t do that. I found it hard to get the notes below middle C, partly because of my hearing and partly because it was hard to hear past the singer! But on listening to the piece I was reminded of what Ella Fitgerald said when a pianist asked her how she wanted him to accompany her - “It’s easy”, she said. “Play when I’m not singing and when I’m singing don’t play!” That’s why it’s difficult to hear the quiet notes behind Tony Bennett but the fill-in notes when he’s not singing are easily heard. Besides, it’s the fill-ins and the transitions that I’m mostly interested in.
So I’m pretty exhausted after the first two days but It’s been a steep learning experience. Will continue tomorrow.

Hi @gregb. Thanks for commenting. Can you give a bit more detail on how you transcribe with musescore? Do you have two windows open when you are listening and transcribing or do you work on a phone and a laptop? Or something else?

I have 2 windows open on a 15 in laptop: musescore occupies the upper 2/3 and transcribe the lower 2/3. It’s pretty easy to drag the musescore page forward and backwards.

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Thanks Greg. That sounds like a better idea than what I’m doing. I’ll try it.

Day 3.
I tried Greg’s method of combining Musescore and Transcribe on one screen. My main frustration was switching windows, which often ended up with me losing my selections, but I got better as time went on. It wasn’t any faster, but that’s probably because I was struggling with the technology.
I have 25 bars out of 37 now. Should be finished on Wednesday.

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I should have realised that the “37” bars in this tune are only 37 because the A sections are repeated on my lead sheet. The pianist of course plays each A section differently. So I’m still working my way through this (now) 74 bar tune! @gregb , I’ve gone back to using pen and paper to transcribe and then copying to musescore. I got very frustrated moving back and forward between windows and typing in commands on the wrong one. You must be far more at ease with these programs than I. :anguished:
As an aside, my soul-mate music critic and I have been using some of our travel funds, unused because of covid, to redecorate. It turns out that the renovator is a guitarist in two bands who uses transcription to work out the notes in Van Halen! He’s never played jazz but was interested after I played a few pieces for him. We plan to get together and work on a few tunes when covid is over. Isn’t it strange how that worked out? It’s a funny old world. :slightly_smiling_face:

@George_Miller, I appreciate you sharing this journey here – I’ve had some similar struggles getting into transcription. The funny part is that I think I’d really enjoy it once I had the knack for it. It’s like a puzzle in its own way.

I’d like to echo @gregb’s suggestion above regarding using Transcribe and MuseScore together, which is the way I’ve been doing it. I admit though that I’ve only done the first 8 of @Tuomo’s beginner exercises (which are excellent, by the way) and I’ve yet to dive in to real music.

Incidentally, I’ve got a question for you (and any other transcribers here who want to chime in) – do you find true value in having your physical piano available during transcription, as opposed to Transcribe’s built-in little keyboard? The reason I ask is because I hit the 30-day free trial limit on Transcribe, and I’m trying to decide if I want to buy the license to install on my laptop, which I can of course have with me at the piano, or for my desktop PC, which is located far away from my piano but which is much more friendly to using MuseScore + Transcribe together.

But otherwise, reading your journey here has given me the inspiration to just get on with it and immerse myself in transcription (once I decide the issue above), so thanks for sharing, George!

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Hi @TactfulCactus. Thanks for chipping in. I find I have to be at my piano, but of course I’m only just starting. The keyboard on "Transcribe"s screen, along with the spectrum, is helpful for working out the middle notes of a chord but It’s only when I play the whole chord on the piano that I’m reasonably sure I have the right sound. On the other hand, if I were only transcribing single notes, like the solo improvisation of a saxophone, I’d have less need to be at the piano.

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Hi @George_Miller and @TactfulCactus,

One of the things I enjoy about this community is the opportunity to hear about different approaches to learning, practicing, and listening, and trying those approaches to figure out what works for me. Everyone is different.

I prefer to transcribe away from the keyboard, mainly because it’s an activity I can do anywhere (on an airplane, etc). I haven’t used the Transcribe! keyboard at all, and I think there is some learning value to first try and hear the intervals and melodies and harmonies, write down one’s best guess, and then check to see if those guesses are correct by listening to what was written. Using a keyboard, whether a real keyboard or a digital keyboard, to check every note as soon as it is played via Transcribe! or Spotify or ASD or anything else, risks avoiding the opportunity to really listen carefully.

For checking my own transcriptions, I go a bar or two at a time, write down what I think is going on in MuseScore, and then use MuseScore to play it and compare to the Transcribe! or Spotify or ASD version.

One more thing…I found it very helpful to work through all of Tuomo’s exercises before tackling a longer tune.

Hope this helps.


To check out whether transcribing a single string of linear notes was easier, I checked out some of the @Tuomo exercises. I was able to do three or four of the beginner exercises fairly easily and the intermediate with a bit more difficulty. I did exercise 28 (intermediate) without the piano although I got the second last chord of part 2 wrong (Emaj7 instead of Fm7). I identified the saxophonist playing part 1 around 1:50.
I think I’m struggling with the Tony Bennett transcription because

  1. It’s hard to hear the soft piano “behind” the singer.
  2. jThe intervals are often octaves apart.
  3. When the tonal centre changes (ii-V-I into a different key) my sol-fa base is lost. I’m adrift. That’s where I need the piano to ground myself during the tune.
    Does that make sense?
    Anyway, when I’m finished with this transcription I’m going to try transcribing a solo from one of the pianists whose style I’d like to emulate. Haven’t decided which one yet! Cheers.
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Thanks @George_Miller and @gregb for those perspectives!

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I finished the transcription this afternoon. Here it is in PDF format in the key of C, which is the key that Tony Bennet sings it in hereThe_Way_you_look_Tonight_Ralph_Sharon_accompaniment.pdf (69.9 KB) I can also upload it in the key of F (or any key) if anyone is interested.
It took me about 10 days and maybe 14 hours of transcription in all.
What did I learn from all this?

  1. Ralph Sharon does indeed accompany Tony Bennet the way Ella Fitzgerald insisted she be accompanied. (“Play when I’m not singing, and when I’m singing, don’t play!”) He plays mostly quiet, simple chords in the background during the singing, and shines with lots of interesting phrases and chord changes during pauses.
  2. I put the timing down as 4/4 but I think it really should be 6/8 or 2/2. He plays lots of triplets, and the “feel” is 6/8. I can’t find a 4/4 backing track that fits in with the feel of the song. I haven’t looked for 6/8 backing tracks but i will. I use BIAB for backing tracks.
  3. It was a really worthwhile learning experience and it will make a significant difference to how I will play this song, which is the next step. Over the next week I’ll practice the tune adding bits from the transcription to add to the interest.

Great job here George and thanks for sharing the finished transcription and your findings.

I agree that when you next play the tune solo piano you will have fun filling in the space with the fills and other material that you have absorbed from transcribing this recording.

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Thanks for sharing your transcription. I’ve added it to my scores/lead sheets folder to check out later. It’s been interesting to hear of your “Transcription trek.”

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That is amazing George and such an inspiration for those working on transcriptions!!! Thanks so much for sharing both your experience and the pdf.

BTW, I would love to have it in the key of F.

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Thanks @celia. Here is the PDF in F and the musescore file in C. The musescore file of course can be easily transposed to any key using tools>transpose…
The_Way_you_look_Tonight_RStranscript_F.pdf (70.3 KB)
The_Way_you_look_Tonight.mscz (28.8 KB)
Unfortunately when the arrangement is transposed a fifth down or a fourth up many of the notes end up too low or too high on the keyboard, giving a muddy (down) or tinkly (up) sound. I’m not sure what to do about that although I’m thinking about playing it through in F the way I’m playing it now, and transposing to C for a second time through. I’m wondering if anyone might have advice on where in the score (maybe bar 63 or 67) I should switch keys, and what chord options I have, eg getting to C from F with a straight II-V-I or coming in through Ab and Db, or perhaps through diminished chords.
Anyway, thanks for the encouragement, Celia.

Thanks so much George! I can’t wait to try it!

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