Questions About Transcription

Hi There,
I am really enjoying this trip, and I have two questions that have arisen in the past week or so.

  1. You talk about the importance of transcribing, and what I do is the following. I work out a melody of a standard jazz song, then I work out the chords. I then check out what types of alternatives I have.
  2. I notice if I learn a chord, let’s say a G13 which is a dominant, I can then drop notes from that structure to play 9ths, 11ths and 13ths starting from the 13th. I do the same with major and minor chords as well, in other words Istarted learning the ups structures starting with 13th chords these were very clear much clearer than a 9 or 11th because I learnt quickly the upper triads.

Question; Am I on the wrong track? Or is this also possible? BTW I also work hard on playing the standards and getting a real in-depth understanding of your choices.

Brilliant website, and would love to see a best of Blue Note being offered as a course.


Bill k

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Hi Bill :wave:

Interesting questions.

Transcription can take 2 forms.

What you are referring to is learning a song by ear which is an excellent exercise. This can be difficult for many students, particularly those coming from a classical background as learning songs purely by ear is not always part of our classical education.

In jazz, if we take the time to learn songs by ear then we remove our reliance on the lead sheet which frees up the mind when playing the song.

It sounds like your process is excellent. First start with the melody, then work out the standard chord changes, then keep listening to different versions for inspiration on alternate chord changes and reharmonisations.

The other side of transcription is transcribing an improvised solo from our favourite records. This is the most effective way to develop our abilities as improvisers, and it also allows us to absorb the more subtle nuances of jazz performance such as phrasing, feel, and articulation; all of which are difficult to teach and can only truly be learnt from listening, transcribing, and emulating our favourite recordings.

If you are new to transcribing improvised phrases, check out our transcription exercises here:

Again that sounds great Bill.

Whenever we come across a dominant chord it’s great to explore the different colours and tensions that we can add such as chord extensions (9s, 11s, 13s) and the altered tones (b9s, #9s, #11s, & #5s/b13s).

Depending on the context, some will work better than others and by doing this regularly we gradually build an appreciation and understanding for what works well in certain situations.

My impression is that you are very much on the right track here Bill.

Learning by ear and not having a reliance on chord charts or transcriptions is brilliant and you should experience more creative freedom when learning and playing tunes in this way.

I would recommend that you continue like this and use our tutorials for additional inspiration and insights where needed.

Thanks for the suggestion and I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the website.

I will see how we can work that into our lessons and courses.


HIya Heyden,

I must say that was a very powerful answer you just gave me, and it reflects your teaching attitude, this is highly appreciated Heyden as I feel that you are an inspirational teacher who I believe are few few and far between.

Thanks again for such a custom-made answer, I really didn’t expect such care in your approach, again my compliments to your teaching skills. It makes me feel much more confident of getting just what I need from your fantastic website.
Many thanks and keep up the great work.

Warm Regards

Bill K

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I just downloaded the transcription software recommended in Hayden’s “Introduction to Transcription” video. This is the next step in my quest to understand the language of Heaven (Jazz Theory) before I actually arrive there. A few weeks ago I tried to transcribe by ear Ralph Sharon’s beautiful accompaniment to Tony Bennet’s “The way you look tonight” and failed miserably. Which makes William Hughes’ transcription of “Danny Boy” by Bill Evans all the more impressive. He made this transcription in 2009, presumably before transcription software was available. Anyone know anything about him?

Yes William Hughes’ transcriptions of Bill Evans’ recordings are awesome.

This is high level transcription work, particularly with the detail Hughes’ goes into with alternate time signatures to capture Bill’s rubato interpretation in places , so you are certainly setting the mark high by using Hughes’ transcriptions as your benchmark.

Try not to be disheartened by slow progress George.

I wish I had persevered with transcription more in the early days of my jazz education. I can’t emphasise how much it has improved my playing after giving it the time it deserved.

My main tips are not to expect to see the results straight away, be patient, and revisit whatever you are working on regularly.

Spend a week on the same recording, just doing a little each day, perhaps just 10 or 15 minutes, and that way you will see improvement.

I find personally that when I come back to the piano the next day, I then notice the improvement from my work the day before, almost like my brain and fingers kept working in my sleep :grinning:

Cheers and enjoy!

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