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Improv Tip Week #31-Benefits of Transcribing

Welcome to week #31, which is the first tip of 2012! If you haven’t yet, I want to encourage everyone to check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and invite you to check it out by going to the link to the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music for more information. The E-book version works great on mobile devices (which is an instant download available all across the globe) and the printed version is sturdy and sits nicely on a music stand. We should have the E-book version available in a few different languages very shortly.

Last week’s tip was on Transcribing Yourself. In this week’s tip, I wanted to talk about the benefits of transcribing (specifically others). Transcribing is one of the most talked about subjects in the jazz community. Regardless of the “how” you transcribe, the benefits are universal and important for every musician to do on some level. But, before we look at the benefits-let’s look at some of the “how’s” (just in case there’s a way that you haven’t explored). Every person has their own learning style and there are different ways that you can transcribe.

-Some transcribe a solo and write it down (whether on paper or digitally).
-Some transcribe a solo entirely by ear (they don’t write any of it down).
-Some transcribe licks or riffs and learn them in all keys (they may or may not write them down).

No matter how you do it, the important part of transcribing is (to quote Mr. Clark Terry) is to “Imitate, Assimilate and Innovate.” The benefits of transcribing:

-Ear training (making the connection between what you hear to what you play stronger)
-Gaining new vocabulary
-It helps you decide what becomes part of your personal style
-It connects theory to practice (try to get into the soloists head and ask yourself…why did that work?)
-You can work on your rhythm by playing with great musicians (when playing with the solo are you articulating the same?)
-It Develops concentration

Even if it seems intimdating at first, the more you do it-the faster you’ll be able to accomplish the utlimate goal of making that connection between what you hear to what you play. There are software programs out there to help out when needed. But, I would suggest doing as much of it as you can at the recorded speed. I’m also in the camp of those that learn the solo (or parts of it) by ear with my instrument. I find, for me, that I can make that connection faster.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip beneficial and start (or continue) transcribing! Let me know your thoughts. What camp of transcribing do you fall into? What are you currently transcribing? Are there other benefits that maybe aren’t listed above that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you and see this blog become more interactive in 2012. Please share this tip/blog with your friends and colleagues and let’s see 2012 become a year of personal improv growth goals!

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  1. Hey Jason, loving the blog – some great advice on here!

    I’m currently transcribing Chet Baker’s scat solo on But Not For Me, off The Touch Of Your Lips. Seriously great language in there for the picking.

    I normally fall into the group of people who transcribe odd licks and take them around all the keys, but this is the first time I’ve approached a solo with the intent of learning it all. I agree with you about just learning it direct onto the instrument without writing it down – it gets it in my head faster. I tend to sing a line first before I try and play it, which I find helps.

    This is all part of a big drive for me to get better ears 🙂

    1. Hey Hector…thanks for your thoughts! I love Chet’s solo on But Not For Me and think it’s a great one to grab material from. No matter what stage we’re in, working our ears should constantly be a part of our routine.

      All the best,


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