Knowledge Base

What is a jazz transcription?

A jazz transcription is a transcription of jazz track, pure and simple. It acts as a record for any listener, performer or admirer of a piece of music, so that they are able to analyse the solo, learn it if they wish and take from it what they will. Used correctly, jazz transcriptions enable the student to replicate their favourite artists in what they play, not just over the tunes from which the transcriptions derive, but over any other tune. Particular phrases can be picked out of the performance, transposed, adapted and used by the more advanced student. It can be done in freehand without staves, simply by recording the notes played, for example ‘A, Bb, >Bb’. This doesn’t allow note duration or rests to be recorded however and by far the preferred method of transcribing jazz solos is to notate it on staves. At Jazznote, I transcribe the solos using in regular format to a very high standard. Please click here for a sample of a piano solo.

Tips for transcribing solos

  • Make sure that the recording equipment you use is accurate – with CDs and more digital forms of media this is less of a problem. I used to transcribe from a basic cassette player though, and would often come up against issues such as batteries going flat, tapes getting chewed up and the like.
  • Take it one step at a time – don’t try to do too much in one go other you’ll never get anywhere with it. Take the solo a bar at a time, or if required a note at a time. This will ensure that your solos are accurate and of a high standard
  • Slow the track down if required – I used to use minidiscs for my transcriptions and the player I had came with a facility to reduce the speed of the recording. This brought with it obvious problems over pitch, but it was easy to resolve simply by transposing the keyboard I was using to align with the drop in pitch. There is much software on the market now that will reduce the speed of an mp3 or other audio file without affecting the pitch. Check out Transcribe or for the iPhone, the Amazing slow downer (which I do not have a copy of, but hear great things about.
  • Buy ‘Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice’ by Gardner Read, which goes into some more detail about the finer points and more advanced rules involved in notation. And no, I’m not on commission.

How to use a solo transcription

  • Learn the solo using a metronome – a metronome is key to doing this properly. Take it at a slow speed to begin with if there are any tricky phrases or difficult licks to master. Increase the speed a step at a time when you have it sussed, until you are able to play at the speed or the original recording. Playing along with the recording is always a good way to crown the achievement!
  • Highlight and transpose your favourite phrases – ideally you would be able to do this in all 12 keys, though the fingering for some of them will inevitably make this impossible.
  • Create exercises for your phrases around a circle of fifths/fourths – this is just another way of practicing the favourite phrasing you have picked out. If you do this fluently and are patient with it, it can result in some quite staggering results. I have occasionally created new tunes out of phrasing exercises adapted in this way.
  • Adapt the phrases, shifting the odd note by a semi-tone – this is where it really starts to get fun and you can begin getting creative with your favourite phrases. Again, learning these changed phrases in all twelve keys and around circles of fifths/fourths/thirds etc can take you on quite an exciting journey.
  • Experiment with the phrases over different keys/modes – again, some really interesting discoveries can come out of this, for example taking a Dmb5 phrase and using it over FmMaj7.