What It Takes to be a Music Transcriber

Music transcribers may be some of the most patient people in the world. Although I cannot say that I have such patience, I believe I have enough that turned me into one. How does one really go about becoming a music transcriber? There are many approaches and certain qualifications to become one.

First off, a music transcriber should have really good knowledge of music theory. A music transcriber needs to be able to interpret what is heard and turn it into standard written notation. As there are many ways of interpreting a piece of music onto paper, a music transcriber should be able to determine the best way of writing down music that would make it easy for any sight-reading musician to accurately reproduce.

I believe that a music transcriber should also be a musician. It’s not just about jotting down notes into Sibelius or Finale. I think that in music transcription, a transcriber should try to play himself or herself the music with his/her instrument of choice. In many cases this could be a piano, but a few people like myself use other instruments like a guitar, sax or any other instrument. Not only does trying to play the music help the transcriber understand what’s happening to the music, it also improves the transcriber’s musical ear. It also happens to be a fun activity too. If you want evidence of that, take a look at serious jazz musicians who have been transcribing the solos of their heroes, a task called “woodshedding”.

A music transcriber should have a good sense of rhythm. Every note in any kind of music follows a certain time frame, hence following that time frame by being able to follow the rhythm is actually one of the first steps of being able to reproduce what is heard into what is written.

Music transcribers should love all kinds of music. It helps to listen to all styles and genres be it classical, jazz, metal, rock, pop, polka or what have you. An open musical mind leads to being able to enjoy the arduous task of music transcription.

The last (and probably the most important) thing allows a person to be a good music transcriber is patience. Imagine having to listen to one song over and over again, bar by bar, part by part, riff by riff, lick by lick, and then writing them all down into paper (or Sibelius/Finale). It is tedious, stressful work that can be very frustrating a lot of times. Like medical and general transcriptionists, music transcribers experience “ear fatigue”. However, the rewards of such diligence are great.

If you happen to possess such qualifications, you could possibly be a music transcriber. It’s also one way of improving your musical skills. Just listen to people like Steve Vai and Franz Liszt, music transcribers themselves, and you would have clues as to what made them who they are as musicians.

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