May 10 2017

The Process Of Transcribing Songs And Solos For Guitar

By: Frank Macri

Posted in: Guitar Basics


Highlights notes and photos from our latest guitar clinic on transcribing songs and solos for guitar:


The Process of Transcribing

We're going to start by looking at single notes because most people find them easier to start off with than chords

1.  Listening
The first thing to realize is that transcribing is all about active rather than passive listening. Passive listening is what you do for pleasure but active listening is more detailed. Your ears are like muscles and need consistent training to continue developing. The more transcribing I'm doing, the faster my ears pick up the sounds and the easier the process becomes.

The first thing you need to do when you decide you are going to learn a song (or solo or riff or whatever) is LISTEN to what you will transcribe. Listen 20 or 30 times to the song or solo and try and get to the point where you can hear (imagine) the song in your head when it's not playing. The better you get at this; the easier transcribing will be and the more benefits it will have when you can do it well.

If I'm doing a solo, I will usually do it in sections. Listen to a few licks over and over and get them in my ear, I try and sing them too (which I recommend you do even if you are a bit out of tune with it. Trying will help you get it in your mind.

2. Tune Up
Absolutely no point trying to transcribe stuff if your guitar is out of tune, so make sure you spend a minute or two making sure you are properly in tune!

3. One note at a time

Once you have the music in your mind (at least a little) we will start trying to figure out the notes on the guitar. We'll do this by learning to stop the track at the right time because:

The last thing you hear, stays in your ear.

You can slow the track down or even loop one note so you can work it out BUT it's better to try and use the pause and keep the note in your "ear memory" if you can.

4. Write It Down
Once you have found the note you should write it down right away; I would recommend writing in TAB first (because it indicates where to play the note). To do this you need to be confident at writing tab and the various notation conventions used to write down guitar techniques such as bends, slides, rakes etc.

Be sure that you understand that what you write down, can (and most likely will) change as you think more about note positions, bends, slides and other such complexities... as a beginner transcriber you should not worry about such things, it will make it too complex, so save some of that for later.

5. Rest
You will often find if you are struggling you might just need to give your ears a rest so just walk away! Once they get saturated they can start playing tricks on you so taking regular breaks is going to help you a lot!

6. Time to Play

Once you have it written down you should start to play it, it will help you check it too. If you can't play it at full speed, then slow it down to play along

More experienced transcribers at this stage might think more about positions and which string a note may have been played on. This can be very difficult and should only be attempted once you are confident with the other aspects of transcribing.

As you get more into transcribing artists you will figure out their tricks or the way they naturally play stuff, positions, fingerings and techniques they gravitate to.

7. Don't be put off by mistakes

I have a collection of transcriptions I did many years ago and they are terrible. Totally all over the place, wrong notes, wrong chords, wrong rhythms, wrong tunings - you name it, I made the mistake!! I can't comprehend how wrong some of them sound, but I thought they were fine at the time and I remember playing some of them along with the recordings and somehow didn't notice they sounded horribly out of tune!

8. Analyze This

And once you can play it you should try and understand it, using theory to dissect it, break each lick or phrase into smaller digestible chunks and learn how you might use the bits in your own playing.

This of course requires some theory knowledge and understanding of harmony - which is something I highly recommend to all guitar players.

-Michael Odell

Guitar Lessons

Piano Lessons

Bass Lessons