Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Weight Room: Transcription

One of my favorite expressions about musicians is this, "The good ones borrow, but the great ones steal."

Are you stealing? You should be! Now, I'm not talking about actually physically taking things that aren't yours. I'm talking about learning to play like your favorite artists - to use their licks, fills and grooves.

Why would you want to do this? Don't you want to be an individual, to be unique? Absolutely! But just like babies learn to speak by imitating, so we learn to "speak" music in part by imitating the best "speakers" in the business. You'll never be an exact copy of anybody, but as you learn how others play and think, so to speak, you will diversify and expand your ability to express yourself on the instrument.

In short, theft pays. Uh....you know what I mean.

The word is transcription. To transcribe something, in this case, means to write it down, exactly as it was played. For example, if you listen to a song that you like and write down the words as you hear them, you have transcribed the lyrics.

In fact, all of my Thursday posts of late, called, "Bag of Tricks," are short transcriptions of a section of the drum part of the selected song.

So, how do you get started? I suggest following this process.

  • Choose the section you want to transcribe. Keep it short at first, no more than a couple of measures.
  • Mark where the section starts and stops. For example, it you're using a media player like iTunes, you can easily see what time you are looking at so you can go back to the exact spot each time.
  • Listen to it enough times that you can sing it pretty accurately (okay, at least give it the bah-da-be-dah run through).
  • As you start writing it down, focus on one "voice" at a time. What's the kick drum doing? Got it? Move on to the snare drum, or hi-hat, etc. writing down each part as you go. 
  • Once you think you've got the whole down, try playing along with it in the air or on your legs. You'll quickly get a feel for whether you're on or not.
  • Use pencil (so you can erase your mistakes), and use standard notation.
  • Once you know you've got it dialed, get it down permanently. I suggest using a notation software like Noteflight where you can store your work and share it. 
You may find that after you've gotten into the transcription habit, you'll actually start seeing drum parts in your head as you hear them. It's a little weird to think about, but it will move your learning and playing forward in a big way. 

Start with something easy, and keep working at it. It will get easier and more rewarding the more you do it. 

Happy 'scribing!

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Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

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