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Transcribing Away From Instrument OK?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by fu22ba55, Nov 25, 2018.

  1. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Out of necessity, I've gotten pretty good at transcribing away from the bass. I just listen to a line phrase-by-phrase, sing the phrase, and enter it right into notation software (MuseScore in my case) to double check the rhythmic notation without ever touching the bass.

    (Good to do late at night or early in the AM when I don't want to wake other people.)

    I obviously go back and try to play these transcriptions on the bass, but I'm curious if I'm doing myself a disservice by not having these phrases pass through my hands during the transcription process.

    It's (logistically) easier to just transcribe by ear while sitting down with a laptop, rather than juggling the bass and pencil and paper, etc... but am I shooting myself in the foot?
  2. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    C'mon man. You're not serious. It's all good.
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  3. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Sadly, I'm totally serious.

    I just transcribed this Don Bagley duet w Julie London this AM (PDF attached). Wouldn't I have gotten more out of the exercise of transcription (ear training, play-what-you-hear), if it passed through my hands and bass on the way to the laptop? Did I just answer my own question?

    Attached Files:

  4. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I'm no expert like some here but IME, transcribing away from the bass and on the bass exercises overlapping but slightly different skills. Away from the bass permits me to be a bit more analytic about what I'm transcribing "Oh, whole tone scale, nice!" whereas on the bass it's more about recreating the exact nuance of the performance. Especially, when transcribing bassists, I strive to play the notes exactly where and how they did, rhythm, emphasis, dynamics, etc. I don't usually get that once I move to reading a transcription, unless I'm playing along with the recording.
    fu22ba55 and Lee Moses like this.
  5. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    I'd say that you get the bass-centric boost no matter which way you do it.
  6. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I wouldn't go nearly so far as to say you're shooting yourself in the foot. I do think there are advantages to transcribing with instrument in hand--capturing nuances beyond the notes, engraving the bassline in your hands and memory together, etc. That said, the way you are transcribing is pretty good exercise for the ears. And thinking about the bass away from the bass can sometimes do more for your playing than when you are hands-on.

    If you have the time, I would think alternating between each would be great. But I really wouldn't sweat it. Especially since you're transcribing at a time when you wouldn't be able to practice anyway. You're doing far better than I am these days.
    fu22ba55, Scott Lynch and Tom Lane like this.
  7. Being able to transcribe what you hear, without the use of any instrument, should be our ear development goal. In the beginning we use our instrument to double check our interval recognition, but as it improves we should move away from verifying on an instrument, and solely rely on our ears.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Do you have perfect pitch? If not, how do you determine what the initial pitch (which all other pitches will relate to) in order to notate it? That would be the issue for me, I can kind of hear a G at pitch (just because there's a specific recording I can bring to mind), but I've never really assessed its accuracy with a meter or anything. But, -

    For me, transcription is not really about data mining, it's about training yourself to hear with enough clarity to get what you're hearing out of your head and into the air using your instrument. Transcribing without your instrument is a great skill to have; if you're out and about and hear somebody play something you like, it's great to be able to pull out paper and get it down. Or, like the great Benny Golson story, wake up from a dream and write down the music you were hearing (and hope it doesn't turn out to be the verse from STARDUST). But ultimately, at least for me, the idea is to have the line you're transcribing so internalized that you can pick up your instrument and play it. Print it out and read it, not so much.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I used to transcribe away from the instrument a lot. As long as you realize that the endgame is to play the sounds you are transcribing and sound as much like the recording as possible, it’s all good. I always thought of the transcribing part as an ear training exercise, and the playing part reresents technical and repertoire building exercises. It’s a whole lot more fun, too!
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  10. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Delaware, USA
    In these types of situations I like to think about the continuum one must follow when learning new music.

    In the simplest terms it is: The Source (Input) => Your Brain (Analysis)=> Your Instrument (Output - and, of course, also a source, forming a loop)

    Wherever the music comes from, it must be broken down by the brain into a form that can be understood and turned into movement by the body that enables as accurate a performance as possible on the instrument.

    What you’re describing seems to be aurally strengthening the link between the ‘input’ and ‘analysis’ stages, which is necessary to inform, and thus maximize the potential of the ‘output’ stage. That’s great - what could be wrong with that?

    Putting in the time on the bass is necessary too, of course. The discrepancy between what you hear in your mind and what your hands can do is for you to work out once you know what you want to sound like, but IMO, needs to come after that sound concept has at least started to develop. Without it, IMO you’re stabbing in the dark.
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  11. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Both softwares I use (Transcribe! and MuseScore) have keyboards so I can grab a reference pitch, and I can hear the phrase played back in MuseScore. (see pic below)

    This was my concern. "Data mining" vs. playing what I hear. @ScottLynch describes is well: Input, Analysis & Output. Transcribing without my bass helps with the first two, but not so much with output. A good exercise, but not the whole enchilada.

    I do eventually circle back and play the transcriptions, but I think I'm missing an opportunity to translate the phrases to my fingers while they're fresh in my head. That's the muscle I neglect building when I'm transcribing via laptop.

  12. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Might be cool to use a tuning fork as the sole reference pitch to determine the initial note of the solo, then transcribe everything using paper and pencil (forcing you to sing and hear everything), then play it on keyboard once it’s all done to check how accurate the transcription was. I did this once and it was tough as all get out but it proved to be a a killer ear training exercise.
  13. buldog5151bass

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

    Oct 22, 2003
    Nothing wrong with developing your ears. Lots of people would love to have that skill.
  14. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Also Too - Always better to "read" material that YOU have transcribed, as you have "listened" repeatedly and (hopefully) absorbed the pure sound of it, rather than read someone else's transcription (which you may never have "heard".)
    "It is better to transcribe one chorus of Blues in F, than to read someone else's transcription of two choruses of Blues in F...." (Confucius?, or maybe Bruce Lee?)

  15. For a while I practiced recording notes without a tool and checking their sound on a computer. This is a good practice that has changed a lot in my perception. Comparing sound with a visible image (notes) and not with an action (playing) is a very good practice. For this reason, knowledge of musical notation and the ability to read from a sheet are very important and working with them is useful even without a instrument.
    The music is not in the DB and not in the voice, the music is in your head. On the way of music to your consciousness is a sequence of elements. Usually it is a DB, air, auricles, etc. You turn on other channels (eyes, buttons on a computer, see notes and keyboards). This is a completely different job and it develops you.
  16. Conbluesius, or Blues Lee.
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  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Not that I'm disparaging what you're doing, but when I read "transcribe away from the instrument", to me that meant pen/pencil and staff paper. There is a lot to be said for how you ingrain material from writing a note on the staff.
    But the other thing, and again this is just the method that I was taught, "fresh in mind" doesn't give you the depth of nuance - attack, decay, sustain, the arc of the phrase, etc. - that listening multiple times, singing the line in half time then full time, THEN picking up your instrument and playing the line like it 's just what you're hearing at the moment; that's more akin to the improvisational response than just writing down pitches and rhythms and then playing them back.
    And isn't that the point of jazz improvisation, either soloing or accompanying?
  18. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    I think I'M disparaging what I'm doing. I think that's why I started the thread. There's no question that using my bass and putting pencil to staff paper makes transcription time more useful and valuable. It takes longer, but it's worth it.

    The laptop method is handy when I just need to make a quick chart for three horns, but if I'm transcribing Ray Brown, or Oscar Petiford or Wilbur Ware, and I'm trying to capture the nuance of their playing, bass-in-hand is the only way.

    I'm just being lazy. Juggling the bass and paper and pencil and playback drives me nuts sometimes, especially when I can do it without the bass in a comfy chair... But just like everything else with this damn instrument, the easy way is not always the best way.

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