Singing Pianist - Voice Trick for Transcription

Using Your Voice for Transcription

Confession – I’m not the best at Transcribing. I get really frustrated even after 1 minute of trying to decipher a melody. It can feel like 5 hours have passed.

Then this is me at 5minutes…

Using the Voice to Ease the Process

But slowly over the years, I can see that it is indeed getting easier for me to pick out melodies. As I can pick out simple pop melodies and chord structures almost instantly that I just couldn’t 5 years ago.

And I’ve been really motivated by Pianogroove to put in more regular work to get to the next level with this skill, so that I can have this ease in the Jazz music I love. I know many of you guys are doing the same.

So I wanted to share a little trick I use, that might be great for others – using my voice in my transcription process. It can save me some time as I often can pick up a melody much faster with my voice than on the piano.

I’ll put the solo on a loop in my headphones and listen to it when in transit to work, ect. As I slowly start to hum along, it is a way for me to work on it at times when I’m away from the piano, fitting it into my daily schedule. Then when I get home to the piano to pick it out, things go much smoother.

Double Benefit - Musical Miles towards toward Mastery

As I start to interpret it with my voice, I’m not only working on the transcription process but I’m also working on my voice skill at the same time.

I find when I’m matching my voice to the pitch on the piano, I’m not overly self conscious about my singing, or what syllables I’m using. Hence, I’m getting valuable time learning the natural fluidity of mouth shape in service to the music.

In my opinion, the best improvisers (scatters) seem to be fluid with their syllables. It’s natural, not forced – truly using their voice as a bio horn:) This fluency takes time to cultivate. So adding this step in your transcription process can be a way to work on this whilst clocking in that time needed to really get intimate with a solo.

Also, it can help break up the transcription process into steps, which for some of us means less over whelm. (And head banging)


I’m working on this tune Sinnnerman. Nina Simone has this 30 second line that is just so iconic, I had to figure it out. Though simple enough, I’ve attempted it many times over the years and just kept giving up. So last week, I started listening on loop and humming along. Then spent 30 minutes concentrated effort to get this vocal recording…

It’s still a rough draft, especially in the first 10 seconds. But it gave me enough of a sketch and understanding to sit down at the piano for another 30 minutes and figure out how to play this 30 seconds on the piano…

Single Line Melodies Sure but what about Chords and Baselines?

It’s defintely more practical to use this for single line melodies, but I found that using it for chords can be very helpful. Some of my voicings were a bit off from Nina’s, and I really couldn’t figure out why.

When I was working on this line, I would continue singing the little vamp, not even thinking about it really; just sorta vamping till it looped back to the start of the line. But when I payed attention to what I was singing on that part, then figured out the notes on the piano, somehow it lead me to the 4th 's she was using and I got closer to what I hear in the recordings.

It can work for bass lines too. For example, when I’m doing Tuomo’s chord transcription exercises, I’m finding the chord exercises very challenging. Head banging and at times, I’ve wanted to give up.

But if I sing along instead, I find I’m singing the bass line. My mindless humming somehow syncs in with the bass naturally.

For Non “Singers” as well

I believe this is a natural ability of most humans; to imitate what we hear in our voice. So even if you are not a “singer” per say, or a singer who is not that interested in scatting?
Then maybe keep this in your back pocket for those head banging transcription moments. Rather than give up, see if your voice can offer you some valuable clues as to which direction to head.