How to Become a Music Transcriber

There probably is no single way about how to become a music transcriber.

One would say that every serious musician in the planet has had to do some music transcription in one way or another. A good examples would be one of my guitar heroes, Steve Vai, former music transcriber for Frank Zappa. Jazz musicians have been known to do this in order to figure out the improvisation methods of their influences. It’s easy then to say that to be a music transcriber one should start by having great love and dedication for music.

Let me tell you a little story about how I became a music transcriber. As far as growing up as a musician, I had limited access to sheet music and so it was helpful that I relied on my ears to learn new songs. What I would consider my first entry into music transcription would be jotting down chords of various songs I wanted to play while I listened to my cassette tapes. Being able to transcribe music came out of necessity. I am not very good at memorizing pieces (I must have some sort of memory deficit) and so transcriptions of music became great memory tools for me. That was the start of being a music transcriber, the desire to learn new songs.

When my playing skills and my knowledge of music theory further improved, I transitioned from just jotting down chords to actually transcribing songs, whether it be in MIDI or in a scorewriter such as Sibelius. Sometimes, I still do it by hand, especially when an idea for a composition starts popping into my head.

Going back to the topic “how to become a music transcriber”, one may be able to simplify it in a few steps:

  1. Learn and practice how to play a musical instrument – Before you can transcribe, you will need some basic knowledge about how to play a musical instrument or be able to sing in tune. If you are confident in being able to discern that you can follow rhythm and melody, that is a start. You will also need to constantly practice how to play your instrument. You need to develop considerable technique that will make you understand how songs are composed and how they are arranged.
  2. Learn and study music theory – By studying music theory, you get to have a better understanding of what exactly is you are playing or what you are hearing. Studying music theory also helps a lot in how to jot down your transcripts to paper or an application like Sibelius properly.
  3. Start transcribing – Once you have some skill on musical instruments and have a good working knowledge of music theory, you can now begin to transcribe. Start out with transcribing the rhythms of the piece, and then followed by the bass line (to have a good understanding of the piece’s harmonic structure as well as provide a “skeleton”) and the melody.
  4. Practice transcribing – Practice always makes perfect, and so just like playing an instrument, music transcription requires practice.
  5. Keep a portfolio – If you want to earn some money from music transcription, you need a portfolio. Try to select the very best from your  collection. This portfolio would serve as a great way to prove that you can do it.
  6. Be patient – Any aspiring transcriber has to be patient. Imagine having to listen to the same song over again for more than 20 times. I can tire out your ears but it really is part of music transcription.

There’s not a lot of steps, but just as I said in my previous piece about music transcription, it takes a great deal of patience.  If you have a music degree or currently studying in a conservatory, music transcription will always help as an additional skill. If you do not have a music degree, don’t fret. I don’t have one but I sure can transcribe music and play an instrument relatively well. Whether your goal is to be able to study and analyze your favorite artist or composer’s works or to become a professional sheet music provider, the knowledge of music transcription will always be helpful.

So, why are you still reading this? Prepare your manuscript paper or your scorewriter and start walking the path on how to become a music transcriber.


  1. Hi mark, nice read. I’m a businessman who’d like to devote more time to music and I’m looking for the best way to make the most out of my time. I think transcribing is the way to go. What software do you recommend? Do they have something for the iPad?

    Salamat! Atticus

    • Hey Atticus,

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I would recommend iLift as an audio player for your iPad if you want to go into music transcription. It has a nice feature that slows down audio to 50% without changing the pitch, and it can loop phrases too. For writing the score, I use Sibelius 6 on a desktop computer with an electronic piano attached to it via MIDI.

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