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Do I need to transcribe a whole song to improve my bass vocabulary?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by TheIndieKid, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. Questions in the title. I created a thread a while ago about transcribing, but really, this time, I'd like to know how you guys go about transcribing and whether you need to learn the whole song or just the part which "grabs" you to improve as a bassist?
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    What is the song you're trying to learn? We can give you better advice if you tell us that little factoid. Some songs are more "repetitious" than others. If you feel it would be a waste of time to learn the entire song, and you don't have any gigs coming up that you need to know the whole song, then yes, you have my permission to only learn part of it. :)
  3. To be honest, I've done a lot of ear training and memorisation, which involved slowing the music down and figuring out the bassline. I didn't notate it or anything, and I feel that was a grave mistake. I can't read music and I'm at the point where I feel I need to, and also understand how basslines fit into context. It'll help me improve my vocabulary.

    I've memorised loads of STP basslines, Arctic Monkeys basslines, and various others from watching covers with tab from YouTube. I don't know if I need to go back over them and learn the chords and rhythms and notes, to write them down.

    I'm now looking at quite a few Elliot Smith basslines, some Scott LaFaro lines with Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard and also Wilco - Born Alone. Pick as you choose from those :thumbsup::)
  4. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Short answer is no, anything you learn helps you improve
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you can't read music then it's pointless to have a conversation about "transcription."

    Find a good teacher who can teach you to read music. It might not even be a bass teacher. Could be a piano teacher, a voice coach, a church music director, etc.

    Spend a year learning to read & write music, then if you want, in Jan 2021 I'd be happy to chat with you about "transcription." Although, if you've already done a lot of ear training, then transcription might come very naturally to you, as you learn to read & write music, and you might not need my help. :)
    Whousedtoplay and TheIndieKid like this.
  6. What's the long answer :D
  7. I've had a go now and again. Sat down with the Dr Licks book on Jamerson. Through it, I've memorised some areas on the staff but there's some I have to sit and figure out.
  8. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Do you NEED to? No. Will it help? Yes. Knowledge is always good.
  9. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    Long answer is, learning the lick teaches you some things. Learning the whole song teaches you about form, which is just as important. It’s important to understand music at both levels.
    Andre678, LowRick, mambo4 and 5 others like this.
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I love that book! So that would be a great example: some songs Dr. Licks transcribed the entire song, other songs he just transcribed the signature 4 or 8-bar signature "hook".

    So here's a suggestion how you can start learning transcription: Choose an easy Motown song that you already know how to play. Pick up a pencil and try writing out the bass line in standard music notation. (If you need to use your bass as a reference to check the notes, then that's fine, for now.) Then, check your transcription against the Motown book to see how close you came. Don't worry if you made mistakes, because even Dr. Licks isn't perfect. Congratulations: you're transcribing! :)
    eJake, TheIndieKid and Quinn Roberts like this.
  11. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Usually it is at the end of the song that some nice fills happens. I used to..... lol
    Whousedtoplay and TheIndieKid like this.
  12. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I transcribe a lot because I don't have time to memorise material that we do.

    Some songs have a fairly generic bass line for most parts so I might write the first few bars and then mark the rest 'similie'. I notate all the tuttis because they are important and any bass fills.

    For other songs that are not so generic I'll write out the complete bass line to follow.

    It all helps because when you do this you kind of get into the head space of the bass player on the record, you'll find that players use some patterns or figures repeatedly and once you identify with how they think it's easier to work out what they do. You sort of pick up their style in a way.
    Whousedtoplay, JRA and TheIndieKid like this.
  13. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    previated devert
    Years ago, I learned the sax line to Take 5 on bass, and some Bach, too, just for fun...
    I'd say it definitely has helped me some with melody and counterpoint.
  14. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Any transcribing where you strive for accuracy is good transcribing. Doing the whole song is unimportant. Transcribe what moves you to want to see it on paper.
  15. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i write, arrange, and produce. i generally have a good feel for every instrument part in the playdown. so i'm a musician at that level. as a bassist: i want to see the notation if you want me to take the part seriously...even if we agree to change it.

    knowing how to transcribe the parts is more work, but being able to inform yourself because you can = priceless!

    re: reading: start.

    good luck! :thumbsup:
    TheIndieKid and Whousedtoplay like this.
  16. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    Of course. I suggest you to transcribe “Gates of Delirium.”
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  17. LowRick


    Mar 24, 2019
    one of the first songs i learned was "give it away now" by RHCP. awesome to play with that slide, but i told my teacher, after 1 minute it starts to wear on me. It keeps being the same over and over again. He said: Good. Now we know that, start paying attention at your playing at 50 seconds and make sure it still sounds the same when you're at the 2nd and 3rd minute.That continuity is at the least just as important than knowing how to play it.
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  18. interp

    interp Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Garmisch, Germany
    IMO you don’t need to transcribe the whole song but you should.
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  19. Ulf_Hansson


    Apr 15, 2014
    I understand the point of transcriptions, and do complete songs from time to time for my students, but it is not necessarily the best (at least not the fastest) way to learn new vocabulary.

    I have found it much more productive to get out of my comfort zone and play along to music and styles I would never otherwise play or study. It is now part of my daily practice routine to let Spotify randomly decide what I'm supposed to play. Not always fun, but always challenging to do convincingly.
    LowRick and TheIndieKid like this.
  20. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Depends on your goal, but in general, transcribe as much as is useful to your needs ….

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