Learning from ear and transcribing
reading another post I wondered what are the advantages of transcribing songs that I learn to play by ear.
I am trained in classic violin (amateur level) and now play in a band and also discovering jazz and folk music. I never really learned playing music by memory. Wasn't good at it and it took a lot of time. But now I have to learn songs by ear and so I have to memorize them also. The more I do this, the easier it gets. Now I also start to learn every classical piece by memory from the first moment. And now I think it gives so much freedom! (okay, many people said this before, but sometimes you just have to experience it yourself to become a true beleiver, right?)
But now I read from a lot of people that it is good to transcribe the songs or solo's that you learn by ear. Does this really gives an extra advantage (besides that if you don't remember a part you don't have to figure it out again)? And if yes, how and why?
Do you transcribe everything you learn by ear?
Why do it if they're probably already written? Just search.
A very old skill indeed, a skill well worth learning. It's how folk music (and other music - think young Mozart and the Sistine Chapel) was collected and later published.
Transcription is one of the most useful skills a musician can have, and I think conservatories severely handicap students by not teaching it. It's not *just* for pulling solos; it improves your musicianship in a myriad of ways and goes hand-in-hand with improvisation.
cotton - not sure what conservatory you went to but mine definitely required us to do transcription / dictation in theory class.
If you ever want to compose anything, it would be helpful practice.
When I first started transcribing I would do it with violin in hand. I found that in time I would relate the intervals to shapes on the fingerboard and to the interval on the staff. Later I would imagine my violin if it was not with me. Personally, I found playing by ear easier than playing by notes on a page. Transcription made me better at sight reading, both for rhythm and notes. For those better at sight reading, but not so good at ear playing, it is also the bridge but the other way. I would say it's essential training. An app like Anytune Pro makes it easier to loop or slow things down and it's not that hard if you do this. It strengthens playing by ear, rhythm, intervals, reading, makes memorizing easier and can make you relate what you hear/read to the fingerboard if you transcribe with violin in hand.
I didn't go to conservatory, but when I was studying for grade 8 cello in the '50s I found I had to pass grade 5 theory as well. My cello teacher regularly gave me music dictation exercises as well as the regular theory. I don't remember music dictation as such coming up in the exam, but recognising intervals, chords, and cadences were there, so perhaps my teacher had been preparing me for possible higher theory levels.
I agree entirely with Cotton and Christopher. Transcribing improves your overall musicianship. I have this on good authority from a former piano teacher for whom I have the utmost respect. Yes, transcribing is very laborious. But so are many of the other things we do for the sake of our craft.
The act of writing something down (whether transcribing music or writing prose or poetry) helps to fix it in your memory. That said, I don't transcribe music that often, unless there's no score available or I'm doing my own arrangements. Exceptions are when the score is very hard to read or has impossible page turns, and once or twice I've transcribed a score to fiddle with time signatures to shift bar lines to align with phrasing. (The last movement (Badinerie) of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 is an example of a piece that benefits from such treatment).
In my case, transcribing pieces of music is to have a score for later reference for when I wanted to commit it to memory. learning 'by ear' has a few meanings to me; learning a simple tune 'on the fly' at a session, but then they become too numerous to even remember how just one of the tunes went. Another way is to replay a tune as many times needed to memorize, but this only worked well with quite short tunes.
Transcribing, melodic and rhythmic dictation, is a valuable skill for a musician doing anything outside of the mainstream, classical world. The starting point is interval recognition, which also helps memorization and intonation.
Dictation, both melodic and harmonic, are staples of conservatory education. I taught them for years in aural skills classes. Chords progressions are not as hard as you might think after you learn the rules.
Chord progressions are not all that hard, but the specific voicings that are being used by many of today's jazz pianists are not so obvious. Not to me, at least.
"Now I also start to learn every classical piece by memory from the first moment"