The art of transcribing – Part 2

Be sure to read the first part of this article series. Click here.

In this article, I will focus on the transcription work that I do for DC Music School (I’m the owner, in case you haven’t figure it out). I am starting to be able to afford a small team of transcribers and hope that one day my business grows enough that I can hire an even bigger team of sub-contractors! For anyone that is interested in potentially working for me, I can’t guarantee work but I’m always happy to expand my list of potential transcribers.

Just so that no one’s time is wasted. I can only hire people who are very familiar with Sibelius, and have a strong knowledge of notation conventions. Otherwise, please read this article and watch the video below to see if this is the kind of work that you a) would enjoy doing, and b) know how to do efficiently. If you’re a bit new to this but would like to get better at it, then read on!

In this second part of the art of transcribing, I basically go through an entire solo from one of my lessons. This one is from Antoine Boyer’s lesson series, and the etude is Django’s Tiger. One of my transcribing team members sent me a Sibelius file with a list of potential questions. So I will include two PDF files for download here. One from me and the other from him. Be sure to download them both now and have the pdfs on hand as you read this article.

First of all, I only ask my transcribers to figure out the tablature and ornaments. I do the rest (layout, engraving, chord symbols). In other words, they need to make sure that the notes and fingerings are accurate as far as the tab is concerned. They need to make sure all the essential ornaments are there. By essential ornaments, I mean slurs, bends, slides, harmonics, grace notes, and such. In general, I do not consider pick strokes, accents vibrato or staccato symbols to be essential to my transcriptions. There are exceptions of course. For instance, if an artist plays repeated notes and is using a specific picking pattern to accent certain beats or off-beats, such as DUD DUD DUD , then I would notate that. On the other hand, if the artist plays E F F# G, and does D U D D, I wouldn’t notate it.

My transcriber did a good job at this solo but had a number of questions regarding my expectations. He was also looking for ways to improve his workflow. So instead of just glancing over the transcription and answering his questions, I decided to film myself transcribing the same solo. One of the concerns for many transcribers is speed and efficiency. Once again I invite you to read the first part of my transcribing series for useful tricks when using Sibelius. In this case, it took 71 minutes for my transcriber to get the tab and ornaments. You’ll notice in my video that it took me 30 minutes to do the same, and another 10 minutes to go through the fingerings and fill in certain blank spots, so 40 minutes in total. Transcribing ability aside, in order to save time, one must have a good workflow. To be honest, I don’t usually time myself when transcribing, and while I could actually go faster, I usually take my time. I also sometimes transcribe directly from the video source which will be covered in another instalment of my transcribing series.

On average it takes me 20-25 minutes to figure out 90 seconds of music, and another 5-10 minutes to verify the fingerings. This one took 5 minutes longer than my average because of a number of subtleties in the playing that I wanted to make sure were correct.

It goes without saying that if you haven’t done much transcribing of this kind before, it will take you a while to get used to. But like any skill, the more you do it, the more you improve, and if you enjoy this kind of stuff, there are job opportunities out there that are quite good. You need experience though, and hopefully, this article series can be of help to you!

Here are the notes that I sent my transcriber, and below you will be able to watch the video of me transcribing the solo. Be warned: it’s boring!

  • Your bar numbers are off because of the pick-up bar. To make a pick-up, press T to open the time signature window, and click on “more options”. Frim there you can create a pick-up bar which will be properly reflected as bar 0. Right now yours are off by a bar, which means that bar 1 for you is bar 2. In the examples below, I will be referring to the correct bar numbers from my transcription.
  • m.3: You wrote quarter note triplets. This is subjective, and in this instance, I went for what I felt was simplest, and I also took into account potential intentions
  • m.8: You added the little grace note which I would add if I felt that the note was important. It’s subjective, of course, but in this case, that C# didn’t feel important to me.
  • m.9: You wrote a little slide. That one was not intentional, in my opinion. It’s just a result of position switching. I guess it’s subjective too, but I didn’t feel the need to notate it.
  • m.12: We have different ways of writing bends, but yours is acceptable. If the bend is fast, I usually do 16th note + dotted 8th, but here it was rather slow. Yours is fine, as is mine.
  • m.14: It’s a wide vibrato, I wouldn’t notate it.
  • m.21: This is a bit tough due to the ambiguous timing. Unless it’s clearly intentional, I usually simplify the phrasing, which is exactly what I did.
  • m.22: I usually write them as grace notes. If it happens on the beat, it’s the one with the line across the stem. If the grace note occurs before the beat, it’s the one without the line.
  • m.27: There was a mistake in yours. He definitely lands on C# on beat 3. I also added a C# an octave below on beat 2, because his fingers looked like they wanted to do it. It’s not important if you omit things like this though, unless you feel it’s truly essential to the phrase. For instance, if he’s clearly playing a 2-octave C major arpeggio, C E G C E G C, and for some reason, where one would expect the second C, there’s a pause and you see that the fingers are hesitating, I would add that note. In this instance, however, it was the first note of the phrase. The phrase works just as well without it, but I added it nonetheless.
  • m.28: Grace notes again.
  • m.33: I added all the ghost notes because I felt that they were an essential part of the phrasing and articulation. I think of these as ornaments in this instance.
  • mm.37 and 39: I wrote triplets, but yours is fine too. It’s a bit ambiguous. In general, I would only write it your way if I personally felt the rhythm to be that distinct. When it’s ambiguous, I go for triplets.
  • m.44: He made a mistake by playing the unison E, I would omit it.
  • m.47: Beat 1. That A note works but he didn’t intend to play it. It’s ok if you wrote it though.
  • m.49: I quantize things to make it reflect something easier to read, and perhaps closer to his intentions.
  • m.51: I see why you did that triplet descent, but it’s just a slow slide. Alternatively, you can write it that way, and add slide symbols for every descent, as well as the slur that you used.
  • m.53: I would definitely opt to quantize the way that I did. Simple is often better.
  • m.56: I added another ghost note. This one is a bit hard to decide. I don’t always put them but when I feel it’s an essential part of the phrasing, I add it.
  • m.61: He messed up a bit. I don’t spend too much time thinking about how to notate this. Instead, I try to use my knowledge of theory and I watch the video to determine the best way of solving sloppy playing.
  • m.62: You did dotted 8th + 16th. I just did 8th. They’re both fine though for my purposes.


Click here to download the transcriptions.

A few things you may notice if you watch the video in its entirety: if I feel a solo is full of subtleties in the timing, I usually import the audio directly into my DAW, which in this case, is Logic X. You can drag a video file into it, and just import the audio. You can also import the video too but I’ve found it a bit buggy. If you work for me, I will be happy to provide the tempo information. What’s great about this method is that the rhythm track is recorded to a click track and is perfectly in sync. Therefore, I can visually see where the timing of the notes are. In this case, I have the master session file, so I have the added advantage of being able to isolate tracks, but it works just as well from a mixdown. Of course, this is one of my workflows; you should find out what works best for you and allows you to be efficient.