Transcribing music is generally a core part of the syllabus for music degrees and higher-level instrument learning.
In the 21st century it may seem outdated to worry about how we write down music with a pencil on a staff. But in fact, the benefits of learning to transcribe music by ear are just as important now as ever.
1. It lets you record what you hear.
Whether it’s pencil on printed manuscript paper, entering notes into Finale, or using the piano roll in Logic, being able to set down the notes you heard accurately empowers your music creation and manipulation.
2. It proves you know what you heard.
If we break down “understanding the music you hear” into its component parts, it’s a process of:
A. Hear the music
B. Form a mental ‘picture’ of the music
C. Understand that picture in detail
D. Do something with it
Everyone can do A.
Part B, being able to form the music in your head—called “audiation”, “auralising” or just “imagining”—takes practice, concentration, and good active listening skills.
Part D (doing something with it) is, of course, the point of it all.
Maybe you want to:
- play the music on your instrument (playing by ear)
- write it down (transcription)
- use it to inspire your own music (composition)
- play your own creation along with it (improvisation)
All of these rely on that same fundamental process of hearing and understanding.
Transcription may or may not be your ultimate goal – but it’s a very effective way to improve these underlying skills, and help you accomplish other tasks in music.
You can greatly accelerate your learning process when it comes to transcription by using modern software tools to help you tune your ear in. These transcription aids let you slow down and pick apart the music to help you hear the detail much more easily.
We have recommendations of the best software to transcribe music for PC, Mac and iOS.
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