The art of transcribing – Part 4

As always, be sure to read parts 1, 2, and 3.

In this fourth part, we will be focusing on transcribing solos where the timing is not always in sync with the rhythm section. This can prove to be a huge challenge. It requires a strong foundation in music theory, and a strong knowledge of the idiom, which in this case, is straight ahead jazz. When I mean that the timing isn’t in sync with the rhythm section, I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way. When it comes to good musicians, this floating time is often intentional. In this particular instance, we will be looking at a solo by Swedish jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius. This is from volume 3 of his lesson series available at DC Music School.

Ulf Wakenius is known for playing behind the beat, and for floating over the tempo. This means that as transcribers, we have to make many musical decisions on how to best notate the various phrasings. If we were to ask 5 different transcribers to notate the same solo, we would most likely have 5 different results, and they may all be perfectly valid. The decisions that I make are based on a number of factors:

  • My intuition and knowledge of music theory
  • The artist’s potential intentions
  • The simplest way to notate a phrase in a way that’s both pedagogical, and easy to read, while remaining faithful to the idiom


For volume 3 of the Ulf lessons, I’ve hired a sub-contractor to transcribe the solos. He submitted the first solo with a number of questions on how to best notate certain passages, and how to work on trouble areas. I’ve decided to film myself transcribing the same solo without looking at his. You’ll find both, his transcription, as well as mine, at the end of this article.

These kinds of solos take the most time and require constant listening and re-listening to figure out the best way to notate things. If you choose to watch the video (be warned, it’s very long and boring), you’ll see that I also sometimes work backwards. When I find a passage where the timing is very floaty, I look for when the playing goes back in time, and from there I work backwards to come up with the best solution that I can think of. I spend a lot of time singing the rhythms as well to feel the internal beats of the phrasing. In jazz music, accents are often placed on the off beats and this often helps me decide how to notate certain passages. This obviously requires a strong knowledge of the jazz idiom. When I sing the rhythms, I sing them a number of different ways to get a feel for each style. For instance, I may sing a a very floaty passage as triplets to get a feel of the accents. I can then try to sing it as 8th notes, both straight and swung. This creates another feel. From there I can decide whether to notate a phrase as triplets or 8th notes, or even a combination of both. Again, this requires a lot of knowledge of music theory, as well as knowledge of common jazz rhythms. Nonetheless, many of these decisions are quite subjective and nothing is set in stone.

When it comes to solos where the timing is floaty, the transcriber’s job shouldn’t be to notate the exact rhythms being played. To do so would make it a nightmare for the player to read, and/or analyze. Furthermore, it goes without saying that the best way to learn a solo is to transcribe it yourself. I offer these transcriptions for those who have trouble and who need the extra help but the truth is, you need to listen to the original recording to get the true feel of the timing. Timing is one of the most important and under-looked aspects of improvisation. You can take 5 great jazz musicians and ask them to play 8th notes, and they’ll each have their own vision of what 8th notes may sound like. This is extremely important to learn, and can only be learned by listening and feeling; certainly not by reading. The transcriptions are merely an academic and analytical guide to the player’s improvisations. A player might play 8th notes, but so laid back, that by the end of the phrase, he/she may be on beat 3, but if we were to notate the 8th notes in relation to the beat, the phrase may end as early as beat 1! In transcribing these kinds of solos, you’ll have to make many kinds of difficult decisions.

Without further ado, here are the notes to my transcriber:

By and large, you did a great job, but you’ll have to pay attention more closely to the ornaments which I will need. To save time, I do not ask my transcribers to do any formatting. Therefore you don’t have to do the standard notation at all, nor do you have to input the chords, or do any of the double bar lines or repeat symbols. I’ll take care of all that.
  • m.2: This one is definitely tricky. While yours is certainly valid, I personally felt that mine swings better by having the last note accented on the upbeat. When in doubt, sing the rhythm; it’s subjective, of course, but my phrasing is very standard jazz phrasing.
  • m.1: I usually write the grace note as a 16th note, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t. I only write it as an 8th note if I feel it’s that much slower, which in this case could certainly be possible. They’re both fine.
  • m.4: Again, it’s basically a rhythmic repetition of the first phrase.
  • mm.5-6: Yours definitely works and looks simpler which is great. If someone presented me with both, I could use either of them. While yours is easier to read, I feel mine swings better.
  • mm.6-7: I use a grace note here to notate the hammer-on, and I use different rhythmic values as well to get the phrase to swing more. Once again, I highly recommend that you sing the rhythms. Nonetheless, yours is perfectly valid too.
  • m.9: His timing here is so floaty that either of ours works fine. I could even think of writing it another way actually. I decided on what I felt might be the best notation based on the phrase immediately before. Once again, I sing the rhythm from m.8; it doesn’t feel natural to have a break after that Gaug arpeggio. It’s definitely subjective, but I feel that the phrasing should continue, hence my notation.
  • m.10: His fingers definitely touch the 10th fret, but I think, based on the many times he uses this concept, that he meant to go for the 9th fret. It’s also definitely slurred.
  • m.12: Your notation is valid, but I wrote it a different way. I like mine better, but it’s personal preference. He seems to do this one a lot, so it’s good to know how to be consistent.
  • m.14: The same ornament occurs here. This will be the last time that I reference it. The only difference here is that he slides to and from the Db. In the previous one, it was a hammer-on + slide. I definitely need to those ornaments, but watch the video if you can. The slides are a pain to notate, you don’t have to place them correctly, just add them somewhere, and I’ll place them myself. If you read Part 3 of the art of transcribing from my blog, you’ll see why it’s better to do the proper placement of the slide at the end. It has to do with the magnetic layout.
  • m.17: I feel strongly about the 16th notes instead of triplets, and you also missed a note at the end of the phrase. Once again, it really helps to sing the rhythm to get a feel of the accents. In this case, it’s definitely 16th notes.
  • m.19: Yours could work, but once again, I think mine has more swing to it.
  • m.20: He definitely meant to play a G at the end, so feel free to correct his mistakes.
  • m.21: This one was tricky, Once again, sing the rhythm and try to find the simplest but also most swinging way of notating. In this case, yours is great, and probably better than mine. I’ll change mine to yours after sending it to you.
  • m.22: I feel mine swings more here, and is much easier to read. He does this pattern so many times, and often with the same rhythmic intention, whether he floats or not.
  • mm.25-26: Yours could certainly work here. BTW, no need to write the staccato dot above.
  • mm.27-28: This was a hard one, I went for I felt was simplest to read. Yours is fine too. No need to add the accent marks, unless it’s particularly relevant; for instance, if he plays the same note many times in a row but accents specific ones. In this instance, it’s obvious that the top note should be accented.
  • m.31: I notate this is as a grace note. It’s much easier to read.
  • m.32: Don’t forget to add the slur on this line. He is very consistent with it.
  • m.33: I start with an Eb, you have a D. It’s just part of a slide so it doesn’t really matter. They’re both fine. The playing isn’t super clean here, but it looks like he does try to play an E natural on the 4th 16th note of the first beat.
  • m.35: On beat 3, it’s that famous lick that he pretty much always plays the same way. Therefore, it’s not a slide from F to Gb, it’s a hammer-on from Eb to Gb. The playing isn’t clean here, but this is where you have to use a combination of your knowledge of theory, your intuition, and your knowledge of what you transcribed previously. It’s now clear that Ulf has a lot of patterns that he favors, and he often plays them the same way as far as technique is concerned.
  • m.37: Once again, this is a pattern that he’s done before. Even though he misses many notes, you can tell that it’s an Ab arpeggio.
  • m.38: The 4th 16th note of the first beat: no need to put the F# in brackets; it was meant to be played. Don’t miss the slur on beat 3.
  • m.39: The descending slide from the high A is not very clean. Your notation is valid, and possibly quite closer to what is being played, but I simplified my notation to have consistent 16th notes. I would accept both here. Once again, don’t miss the slide on beat 3. The A natural is intentional so it doesn’t need the brackets.
  • m.40: Your notation fine, but once again, I went for the simplest notation. Just don’t forget the slurs.
  • mm.41-42: Once again, he’s done this pattern many times already, so by now, it should be easy to guess what it is. Just don’t forget to add the slur! At the end of m.42, it’s definitely 16th notes. He’s going for a syncopated effect.
  • mm.45-46: This was rather chaotic. It seems that he’s not going for any particular rhythm at all. Some of them ressemble triplets, but then they get so displaced and inconsistent, that I made the decision to simplify the notation as much as possible. As you can see in the video, I worked backwards. I looked for when he comes back in time, which would be beat 3 of m.46. From there, I added the previous notes.
  • m.47: You missed the A natural.
  • m.48: You missed the slur.
  • m.49: You missed the ornaments, and a few notes. Once again, this is a pattern that he’s played already, so use your intuition to fill the gaps. That last D note is tricky and he doesn’t nail it cleanly, but it seems quite intentional if you look at the entire phrase.
  • m.50: Look at my notation. I could accept yours, but I find mine to be much easier to read.
  • m.52: It’s the same pattern again (and don’t forget the slur). If you slow it down, you notice that the accent is on the Gb, therefore I wrote it as a triplet with a pickup note. He seems fairly consistent with this pattern, so make a note of it. What helps a lot is to not only sing the rhythm but to sing it at half of the rhythmic value so that if you tap your foot along, you can really feel the accents and the swing.
  • m.53: On beat 3, once again, I sang the rhythm at half the rhythmic value. I personally felt that the accent should be on the last Bb. Therefore, I put it on beat 4. To be honest, though, yours works as well.
  • m.54: He plays the F natural after the slide, so it does not need the slur symbol above.
  • m.56: Don’t forget the slur.
  • m.57: Once again, I simplified the rhythm.
  • mm.59-60. These were really tricky. I debate whether I should write it your way or mine. Yours is definitely more accurate to what really happens, but ultimately, I sang the rhythm at half the rhythmic value, and felt that it sounded great simplified. I would certainly accept your notation though.
Click here to download the transcriptions.

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