Jazz Tip of the Month No. 13 by pianist Terry Seabrook.
Transcribe, Transcribe, Transcribe
One of the best tools in learning to improve your ability as a jazz improviser is to transcribe other players’ improvised solos. This is a very effective way to learn the language of jazz and of your favourite players. By transcribing a solo you internalise key principles of the music.
Transcribing a whole solo can appear to be an awesome task and a quick way to damage your records or tapes. But with modern devices and technology the task can be made easier. Use a CD with a cycle mode to focus on each bit. Transfer the music to a computer program where you can cycle bits or even slow the music down while retaining the correct pitch (try ‘thegreatslowdowner’ program – search the internet). Another great programme which lots of people use is called TRANSCRIBE. It’s got lots of useful features such as note guessing, speed variation, fine tuning, cycle mode etc etc. Go to www.seventhstring.com.
To start with, choose players on your instrument who are relatively un-complex. John Lewis (MJQ) or Horace Silver are good examples on piano. It’s not necessary to transcribe a whole solo. Just start with a few favourite bars/phrases or one chorus of a 12 bar blues.
- Learn to play the transcription from memory.
- Analyse it to understand its harmonic, rhythmic and melodic features.
- Listen to the original and learn to play the aspects of articulation and groove that can’t be notated on paper too well.
- Learn to sing some/all of it.
- Try some/all of it in another key.
- Try transcribing something that has been played on a different instrument to yours.
- It will get easier as you do it more, so persevere.
- Transcribing is also a good way of developing your ear as well as a good way of developing your concepts of melody, rhythm, harmony, feel, dynamics, time
The American saxophonist Dave Liebman has said that the lion’s share of his approach to playing is essentially found in four or five solos he studied and learned to play over the years. He also reckons that people with an educated ear can tell which solos he learned!