Ask Damian Erskine: Transcribing Tips

Q: out of curiosity, what do you use when transcribing? Software or pencil & paper? I’m delving into this area more and grew up with the pencil & paper way, but am becoming more intrigued by all of the software “gadgets” out there.

A: A little bit of all of those things, really. Here are my tips and practices for transcription.

  1. Before you try to write, play or make a mark of any kind. LISTEN to what you are about to transcribe over and over again until you can sing or whistle it all the way thru.
  2. It is MUCH easier to transcribe something you can already hear. Learning the passage by ear before trying to figure out what it is via notation will save you a lot of frustration.
  3. Try and figure it out on your instrument note by note until you can play it all the way thru BEFORE committing it to paper. I find that when I just get something note by note and write it down as I go, it disrupts the flow and I don’t internalize the music as well. Learn to play the music before worrying about the paper!
  4. Buy “Transcribe”. This is is the best software I’ve found for slowing down fast passages, very stable, and works like it should. I use a Mac, but I assume you can get it for PC, too. A lot of people also like “The Amazing Slow Downer”. It works fairly well, but I prefer “Transcribe”
  5. Now, PROPERLY notate the piece you’ve transcribed. Notation is an exercise in itself and I strongly recommend notating everything on paper (I will do a rough draft on paper and then enter it into my notation program. I use Encore as I find it the most intuitive). Pay special attention to rhythm and proper notation. Learn to get it right! This will only help you when it comes time to read music! Notation is the 2nd best way to practice reading music (actually reading it is the first, I’d say.)

I hope that helps a little bit!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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