Tips For Transcription

I had a recommendation to do a lesson on transcription by ear, but the only problem is that there is no one way to transcribe. But, I gave it my best, and was able to give you some tips on transcribing by ear. Enjoy!

Ultimate Guitar
Intro: Hello, and welcome to a CPDmusic lesson on transcribing by ear. I had a request to do this lesson, and I will try to the best that I can. I say that because there isn't a golden rule to transcription or something like those advertisements say. But, unlike popular belief, you don't need perfect pitch to transpose by ear either. Sure, you need a half decent ear, but that is easily developed through listening to and playing music. You will also need lots of patients, because when you first start transcribing, you will probably be playing the first ten seconds of the song over and over and over again. But, as I said, there is no one way to transcribe by ear, so the best I can give you is tips, like the lesson title says. So, here we go. What You Will Need: First of all, you will obviously need a pen or pencil, and some music staff paper or tablature paper, to right down the music you transcribe. Also, you should have a guitar or some other musical instrument (your voice will work if you're a good enough singer), to compare the notes you play, which you can identify, to the mystery notes in the song. It is also a good idea to have a metronome, especially if you are transcribing in actual musical notation in comparison to tabs, because you will actually need to know which notes are quarter notes, which are eighths, etc. It is also good to make sure you have a half decent recording of the song, not a live video you capture with your cell phone or something. Also, when your starting, you may want an audio editing program from some sort that will lets you manipulate the recording. Finding The Tempo: To find the tempo (the speed of the music), you will have to find the BPM, or beats per minutes. It's the easiest part of transcription, and is quite simple. You know when you listen to a song, and you tap your toe to the pulse. Well, all you have to do is find out how many toe-taps you do in a minute to find the BPM. Just get a stop watch and get your toe tapping, and just time how many toe taps you complete in ten seconds for example. Than just multiply it by 6, because there is 60 seconds in a minute, and there's your BPM. This is the number you will set your metronome to, and it should then match the pulse of the song. An alternate method is if you're lucky enough to have a metronome with a tap tempo function. This means you just tap the tap tempo button to the pulse of the music, and it will automatically find the BPM for you. The First Note: The first note is also fairly easy. But, unless you have a good enough ear to simply identify what note it is, finding the first note is pretty much guess work. Just play the note over and over again, and play a note on your instrument that you think might be close to that note. Now, there are three outcomes: you got lucky and got it right on the first tray, the note you played is higher than the recording, or the note you played is lower than the recording. If you got the right note, than you're obviously done this step. If your note is higher than the recording, play a lower note and compare, and if your note is lower than the recording, play a higher note and compare. Repeat this process until you have arrived at the correct note. A Tip For The Rest Of The Notes: When you're first starting, the easiest way is to identify musical intervals. If you don't know how to identify musical intervals, you will want to read this. This process will involve you taking the first note, which you have already identified, and comparing it to the next. If you can identify that interval, you can identify the second note! For example, if the first note is a D, and the second note is minor third lower than that D, then the second note is a B! This may seem long and strenuous, but until you get the hang of ear transcription, it's your only hope. A Tip On Identifying Chords: You will most likely run into chords in your transcribing days, so you will probably have to have some idea on how to identify them. Now, you don't have to play the chord, but rather the root note. For example, if the chord is a G chord, the low G should sound in unison with it, although it is not as textured. From there, to determine whether it is major, minor, etc is up to your ear. Until your ear gets to the stage where you can actually separate the individual notes in a chord, you will have to rely on the feel of the chord (major chords sound happy, minor chords sound sad, etc.). Some More Tips: Now, I mentioned that it was a good idea to have an audio editing program before, which is where this comes in. Having a program like this can help you immensely. First of all, most audio editors enable looping features, which can come in handy. You will probably also be able to crop certain parts of the song out, which is good if you want to focus on just that part. Also, a lot of audio editors have the option to slow down the audio file. This is great if the song is to fast for you to catch all the notes. Now, if you don't have an audio editing program, you can get one for free here. It's pretty basic compared to some of the retail, pro-grade audio editors you can get, but it has the ability to loop, crop, and slow down the audio file (plus much more), which is all you will really need in transcription. One final thing is that you shouldn't pick the craziest, fastest, face-melting song you know to start with. Don't try to make your transcription debut with Through the Fire and the Flames, because you will soon realize it's above your skill level. Use the KISS principal; Keep It Simple, Stupid! Start with a simple melody you know very well, like your countries national anthem, or the theme from that movie you watched ten-thousand times. The first song I ever transcribed was the theme from Indiana Jones. Closing: Well, that's pretty much all the advice I can give you. All you can do now is practice. But if you need help, I have published a simple melody on my YouTube channel. Also, feel free to send me a message, or E-mail me at That's all for this lesson! Did You Like This Lesson? Check Out My Last Lesson, Pentatonic Scales. Also, Check Out My Profile. More Lessons Coming Soon!

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    King R
    this is pretty helpful but i don't plan on buying the equipment. (Lol i still use major chords sound happy and minor sound sad sadly after three years of playing) i'll be posting some tabs pretty soon hoping to contribute after taking
    good to learn your scales because you can usually get the single note melodies first. If you know what key the melody is in (ie what scale its based on), then figuring out the chords becomes so much easier.
    the trick to finding the bpm was awesome, i would never have thought of something so simple, just finding the beats per 10 sec then X by 6
    You will also need lots of patients, ahah where will i get those..=) just kidding..very good lesson by the way..i needed this as much as anything, thank you.
    Hmm...I may consider this article, if I can ever get time between schools and other things to do transcription...
    Not trying to rain on your parade, but proofreading is an essential part of producing a good article. It's right up there with using proper grammar. Proper use of both tends to give an article more credibility - at least for me. Looking past the mistakes - for a beginner, it's not a bad piece. Beginners should take this piece and use it as a stepping stone. As you advance, you'll learn that transcription can be a complex process. It can be as simple as finding all the correct chords to a song, or as complex as transcribing the entire piece of music. As the article points out, start with simple songs and work from there.
    I think anyone that is serious enough to try transcription will already be familiar with these steps.
    BBB Banana
    Learning how tho whistle the song is also quite helpfull specially for those who can't sing well enough.
    King R wrote: this is pretty helpful but i don't plan on buying the equipment. (Lol i still use major chords sound happy and minor sound sad sadly after three years of playing) i'll be posting some tabs pretty soon hoping to contribute after taking
    There is no need to buy any equipment. If you need an audio editor, the link I gave is free, and if you need a metronome, you can easily find one online.
    Just skimmed the article, read the Tempo part and already learned something, I will definitely read this when I have the time, great article!
    Ear training and learning to sing intervals helped my transcribing by miles. Also learning how to tab drums accurately helps get guitar parts down later, and just knowing rhythm notation is great. I though transcribing was pretty simple till i started on Periphery and Haunted Shores songs though.. XD
    illyria wrote: worship this lesson people. finnaly a lesson on transcribing, odin be praised( also CPD be praised. you will surely go to walhalla)
    lol I appreciate the support.
    worship this lesson people. finnaly a lesson on transcribing, odin be praised( also CPD be praised. you will surely go to walhalla)