Transcription Exercises

New Transcription Exercises For All Students...

Hey all,

This is a new initiative to encourage students to transcribe on a regular basis.

What is transcription you might ask?..

Transcription is the process of listening to a line or a lick from a record and then working out the notes and the rhythm using your ears.

So What Are The Transcription Exercises?

With each new jazz standard lesson, we will analyse a short transcribed solo so that you can see the benefits and insight that can be achieved from practicing transcription.

As ‘homework’ - we will all then attempt to transcribe more ourselves. This could be from the same record or from a different record.

How Will These Transcription Exercises Help Me?

Transcribing lines is one of the most effective ways to learn and to develop your ability to improvise and it should be an essential part of your jazz piano study. It will help you with:
  1. Improvisation and fills
  2. Rhythm, groove and feel
  3. Phrasing and melodic decoration

It’s very difficult to teach the above things. You need to immerse yourself in jazz music to improve at these aspects of jazz piano. If you’re looking for the ‘secret’ or ‘magic formula’ for learning to improvise… this is it!

How To Get Started...

For each jazz standard lesson, I will post a recording, a PDF and some additional information below. It’s then your job to either transcribe more from the same recording or alternatively, find your own recording (in the same key) and transcribe some material your self.

Try to spend 10-15 minutes a day transcribing and don't be disheartened if progress is slow to begin with... keep at it and feel free to share anything you learn.

Stick with this one and you will not be disappointed!

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Transcription Exercise 1 - Summertime

For the first transcription exercise, we will be using the tune Summertime by George Gershwin.

Check out part 3 of the tutorial here: Summertime Improvisation | Improvising Over Summertime - It’s very important that you check this out first - it will help you understand the exercise.

In the lesson we analyse 10 bars of improvisation that I transcribed from this recording:

MP3 File:

Click the down arrow symbol to download the file.

Here is the PDF File containing the arrangement and also 10 bars of improvised material that I transcribed from the recording

Summertime_Transcription.pdf (51.3 KB)

You will see that I have written out my transcription, and also left blank space for you to transcribe too:

Important Points To Remember:

  1. Learn the chord changes first
  2. Play along with the recording (first play left hand voicings underneath the recording then start to transcribe the actual solo)
  3. Transpose all licks and lines into different keys - do this immediately!!
  4. Writing it down is not essential but it good to keep record of your transcriptions
  5. Start with small licks or lines, then work on longer lines… then try to transcribe entire solos.

Dont feel like you have to do this exercise. But if you want to get better at improvisation, then you should be doing this kind of stuff every single day!

If you have questions with this just get in touch.

Transcription Exercise 2 - There Will Never Be Another You

For the 2nd transcription exercise, we will be transcribing from a studio recording of the tune ‘There Will Never Be Another You’:

I have transcribed ideas from the head of the tune, and then the 1st 32 bars of Arturo’s solo.

You can find the lesson here: There Will Never Be Another You Transcription - you can also download an MP3 of the performance below the video. (Download this and pull into your transcription software)

Here is my transcription that I have notated in Sibelius:
Arturo_Sandoval_Transcription.pdf (33.2 KB)

The lesson highlights the following improv concepts:

  • swing feel
  • approach patterns and enclosures
  • chord tone soloing and resolving into chord tones
  • incorporating turns into lines
  • using chromaticism
  • super imposing the blues scale over chord sequence

And this was just from the first 32 bars!!

Your Exercise....

Continue to transcribe from the recording - you can choose from either the trumpet, sax, or piano solos… they all have some amazing sections that are worth studying:

Zane Musa - the sax player - quotes the melody in his improvisation which is interesting.

Mahesh Balasooyria - the keys player - has a brilliant swing feel and some awesome bluesy sections.

Ultimately… pick the sections that YOU like the sound of and that you want to add to your playing.

Remember to play left hand voicings underneath the improvisations so that you know exactly where you are in the form.... then start transcribing.

Hi guys,

I created another version of my transcription, which highlights the chord tones in red.

Notice how he resolves into a primary chord tone pretty much every time he changes chord… It’s important to target the primary chord tones (1, 3, 5 & 7) to give your improvised lines structure.

To do this you can approach chromatically, step wise, or an enclosure which is where you play the notes either side of the target tone.

Here is the PDF file with chord tones highlighted:

Transcription_Chord_Tones.pdf (474.9 KB)

We will explore this topic further in the upcoming study of The 12 Bar Blues.

Okay, I have to admit, this is my first really serious attempt at transcribing something on this level. I’m in the early stages and I’m sure I picked a section that is way too advanced for me, but for the past few hours I’ve been working on the first several bars (10-12) of the piano solo. My goal is to learn the first 16. He’s using mostly his right hand. Towards the end he starts using both hands and I believe the left hand is just playing the same notes down an octave. Anyway, at this point I’ve picked out all the notes and I’m just attempting to duplicate the way he’s swinging them. After many, many repetitions playing at 50-70% speed, I can sort of duplicate the feel and sound. To play it the way he’s (seemingly effortlessly) playing it at full speed seems super human to me. It’s been a real learning experience and has given me a real appreciation for what that guy is doing. I guess the next step would be to attempt to write down what he’s playing. Hayden, I can understand why it took you a week to do what you did! But hey, I’m lovin it. It’s great fun! :slight_smile: Thanks for putting together another great lesson.

Great stuff. You have made a start… and that’s the most important part…

Now your learning journey with jazz improvisation has truly begun! :slight_smile:

Yes that’s correct, in that section he plays both hands in contrary motion so he’s playing the same notes in each hand. He also uses some beautiful counterpoint in his left hand at 5:06

It’s an advanced piano solo for sure… he’s very talented.

Continue with your study of the piano solo, but also…

Maybe try something a bit simpler… how about this, try the sax solo… from bars 3:06 to ~3:17 (this way you also aren’t temptet to look at the keys - we are working on our listening skills here :grinning:)

This is the 2nd A section of his first time though the form (bars 17-25) - listen to how he takes the original ‘arc’ of the melody and repurposes it so beautifully over the next 6 bars. Brilliant!

First of all, always play left hand voicings underneath before you start to work out the notes.

The 1st note of his solo is on D-7b5 (bar 3) - I’d recommend you play left hand voicings underneath from when his solo starts, just to get in sync with what is happening. Play your left hand voicing on beat 1 of each bar.

I will transcribe the 1st 32 bars of his sax solo and post in here in a few days. Have a go at it too.

First focus on accuracy, ie. get the right notes, and the right rhythm and feel. Then gradually speed up, in small increments.

If you noticed, i recorded the transcription exercise lesson at 120 bpm, when they were playing around 160bpm. (After 1 week I was comfortable with 120 which is 75% of the original speed… it will take more practice to speed it up whilst keeping accuracy)

Even at 120 bpm, some of his trumpet lines are difficult to execute on the piano!

So don’t worry about slowing it down Mark… it’s essential when you are starting out… slow it down as much as necessary.

Mark, to transcribe a whole solo, it takes weeks/months… And even then you can revisit it, better emulate it, and speed it up.

It’s very challenging but also very rewarding and hugely beneficial to your playing.

As you say you have to listen to it over and over… and that is how you absorb jazz phrasing and feel. Essentially, it’s how you learn to improvise.

My pleasure… keep an eye on this thread… I’ll transcribe and post the first 32 bars of the sax solo in a few day. I also really like the piano solo from 6:20 to ~6:50 - I will transcribe that too and post it here.

Remember you don’t need to transcribe the whole thing… just pick the bits you like. Perhaps just a couple of bars or a 251 lick/line.

I love this bit!


Hayden, I took your advice and moved over to the sax solo. The first thing I did was work on playing only the chords, in the left hand on the first beat. The transition between Arturo and the sax player is a bit tricky, and it took me a long while to hear and recognize where in the form the sax player starts playing. I’m glad you mentioned that he starts his solo on the D-7b5 chord. That was a big help. I had to listen very closely to those few bars over and over again and finally realized that I could hear the piano player playing the chords, and got to where I could hear him ending the previous section with the the Fm7 Bb7 and then playing two measures of the Ebmaj7 before the sax solo kicks in.

Once I was able to play the chords in the left hand on the first beat through the entire solo, I moved on to learning the solo at bars 17-25 as you suggested. Playing the solo in the right hand and the chords in the left hand on the first beat. I agree - that little section is quite nice, and much easier to work with.

Working through all this for several hours last night was a very fun, interesting and valuable learning experience. I agree with you that all of us students should to be working on transcribing on a regular basis.

So that’s where I left off last night. Came in this morning and found out that my PC won’t turn on. I think it’s the power supply. Bummer! It’ll probably take me a few days to get up and running again.

Hayden, thanks again for everything you do! You’re the best!

Yes playing left hand voicings underneath on the first beat of the bar is very important… the pianist will not be doing this, he will be syncopating and anticipating his comping which can make it harder to follow the changes.

A tip is to listen to the drummer. After every 8 bars, the drummer will add a subtle ‘fill’ and when you move back to the top of the form (and also into the bridge to a lesser extent), this ‘fill’ or ‘roll’ is slightly more pronounced… listen out for that as it is a very useful hint.

That’s exactly right… more often than not, the soloist will ‘wind down’ towards the end of the form… but Arturo caries on in this instance. In some ways this ads to the spontaneity of the performance, but from a transcription standpoint it is tricky.

The main point is that you had to listen to it over and over, just to hear whats happening. This is the whole point of transcription…

Music is an aural art form, and thus listening is the best way to learn it… particularly in the jazz idiom.

That’s great news… and it’s why i directed you there.

I’d recommend staring out with transcribing from players like Chet Baker, or Miles Davis, as they leave a lot of space in their solos.

If you try transcribing Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, or Kenny Barron, you will find it much more difficult.

In the upcoming study of blues, I will post a number of different F Blues recordings that I would recommend transcribing from… this isn’t a compulsory exercise, but for those looking to improve their improv skills, it’s essential.

The blues is a short form too, with few chord changes (and the jazz blues form has both major and minor 251s) so it’s perfect. More on this when the section is finished :slight_smile:

My pleasure Mark… it’s very encouraging on my end to be able to teach this side of jazz… and it’s very much aligned with the direction I want to push PianoGroove.

And good luck with your computer!

ps. if you were wondering, when i quote you, i manually add in your name, i’ve spoken to my tech guy to get this fixed (as it quotes the username by default) which is ugly due to the how the forum integrates with the membership side of the website. But anyway, I am working on getting it to quote the persons name by default. cheers.

Transcription Exercise 3 - F Blues

Howdie PianoGroovers,

If you’ve struggled to get stuck into transcription. The blues is a very nice place to start. I have included 4 records below that you can transcribe from. Start with the “Bill Evans Blues In F” as this is the most accessible.

In the latest lesson on the blues, I demonstrated the value of transcribing from these great musicians

Check out the lessons here:

Blues Licks Tutorial: Blues Licks Tutorial | Blues Licks & Riffs Lesson

Passing Tones Tutorial: Passing Tones Tutorial | Chromatic Passing Tones Lesson

Here’s the records I transcribed from and some notes to help you get started:

Bill Evans Trio - Blues In F

  • A great record to get started with transcription
  • very simple melodic ideas to start with
  • longer jazzy lines typical of Evans
  • interesting chromatic sections
  • locked hands technique towards the end of the tune

Hank Mobley - Greasin' Easy:

  • Wynton Kelly Piano Solo starts at 3:55
  • Wynton pulls of some very long lines
  • Brilliant example of locked hands technique

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Moanin’

  • Bobby Timmons solo starts at 5:02
  • this is a minor blues, not a jazz blues, but you can still get some nice licks to play over the simple or jazz blues progressions.
  • very minor blues scale orientated, but also some use of the major blues scale.
  • quite challenging - start with the Bill Evans recording if you are new to transcription

Cannonball Adderly - Straight No Chaser:

  • piano solo starts at 4:40
  • great examples of blues scale licks
  • use of major and extended blues scale
  • great use of motifs to tell a narrative

Remember to learn the blues form before attempting transcription... you need to know the chord changed inside out!

Any questions or if you need any guidance just let me know


These lessons are great. I recently learned Moanin and now I can hopefully improve my improvised section. Thanks for this great set of tutorials

Wow Hayden, you have been very busy these past several days!

It’s like you were “On a mission from God.” :sunglasses:

Thanks for all the great blues lessons. You’ve given all of us students quite a lot to work on!

It’ll be great fun!

Thanks Michael, I’m glad you like them. Yes the concepts covered in this series will be very important.

Moanin is a minor blues and so the F Minor Blues will all have an important part in his solo, but listen to when he steps away from blues in his improv… then he will be utilising chord tones, approach patterns and sprinkling in extensions and alterations.

Have fun playing with this stuff :slight_smile:

My pleasure Mark, and yes, there is a lot of info in there.

Remember to start simple with your improvs and just cycle around the progression with iRealPro, try to get an aural appreciation of what each chord tone sounds like, and more importantly, what it sounds like to resolve into each different chord tone using the approach patterns outlined.

If I can help, or you need any guidance just let me know :sunglasses:

Love the transcriptioning… however can not get the Gershwin Summertime.xsc into transcribe. I may haved replaced google maps with Gershwin and one transcribe monitor (i have 6) says it is Gershwin but is Bill Evans. Everytime I try to add file transcribe disappears, will keep trying.

i am flummoxed. again…transcribe says the xsc for summertime is a transcribed and not a sound file… tried the mp3 above it but how does “transcribe file will open up directly within the transcribe software”. as written re Summertime.xsc and below it. I really have been going in circles and it is craze making. If transcribe is open as soon as i try to drag a file it closes and hides. I have wasted so much practice time trying to figure this out…and cannot locate help on transcribe either.
what to do???

Hi Cherly,

No problem… let me help you out here.

Try this:

  1. Download this file by clicking the “down arrow” icon:

  1. Drag the file into Transcribe. You are using Mac if I remember correctly… you can either drag the mp3 file onto the Transcribe Icon, or alternatively, open transcribe and then drag the .mp3 file into the window.

  2. Transcribe works by pulling audio files (.mp3 or .wav files) into Transcribe and then you have the ability to slow sown, loop sections, and also other features. If you don’t have the audio file on your computer, then it won’t work.

The easiest way is to follow steps (1) and (2) above. Remember that anything you have in you iTunes can be pulled directly into Transcribe… simply drag and drop the files.

Does this help… I’m happy to explain further if you need :slight_smile:


You are so kind.
I do not want to burden you with too many techno queries and have found a source to assist me.
But, if you have the thread and your Jan 17 response to my query perhaps you can quickly figure this out.
Per instructions for # 1, I cannot locate the “down arrow”, … it must be hiding in plain sight but is it on transcibe or should I hit file or yikes hmmmmm … where the heck is it…???

congrads on the tutors…
If ever there is a real basic simple beginning place to transcribe and put the pieces together so that one success can grow and roll on, that would be so helpful. I imagine it to be quite boring and challenging when you know so much and the pathways are so lubricated to revert back but I believe many would benefit.
You have given us the tools for a solid foundation, truly.

er umm, not sure how but i found a way to move gershwin to transcribe… hurray
thank you

Hey Cheryl.

Glad to hear you have got Gershwin into Transcribe! :sunglasses:

Here’s the down arrow:

If anyone uploads audio to the forum, you will always see this down arrow on the audio player.

Thank you!

I think that’s a fantastic idea - leave it with me.

I imagine you have watched the course on “How To Transcribe Lines & Solos” - How To Transcribe Music By Ear | Jazz Piano Transcription Course

I’d recommend starting by transcribing a line over a 251, like in the first 2 examples.

The end goal is to be transcribing full solos - as in the later lessons of the course - but you will work up to this.

It’s tough to get started on Cheryl, but also very rewarding and in my opinion to the most effective way to improve at jazz piano.

Once you develop your ear you will feel very liberated as you can pull creative inspiration from any of your favourite recordings and have full control over the direction and development of your sound.

HI Hayden, I realize this thread is kind of old, so hope it will still be seen.

When transcribing do you recommend the Hear it, Sing it, Play it method, or do you go straight to playing? I have been seeing a local jazz pianist to supplement encourage some discipline in my practice routine, and he feels strongly that you need to be able to sing what you hear prior to playing it. I have found it very helpful, and it has made me realize that I don’t always hear what I think I hear! Using the Transcribe software is critical for me, as I can’t pick up some of the lines without slowing it down.

Thanks! Kim

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Hi Kim :wave:

Firstly, thanks for reviving this thread.

It actually ties in nicely with our new Practice Inspiration Category:

Myself and some of our other students are still fleshing out how it will all work and making good progress.

My plan has always been to add a subsection in there for transcription drills and exercises. I’ll get to work on this now.

Anyhow onto your questions:

I personally hum or whistle the tones of the lines I’m transcribing. I’ve always loved to whistle lol

But in effect, it’s the same thing… sing/hum/whistle… we are using our body to emulate and internalise the sounds we are hearing.

So yes I think it’s always a good idea to vocalise the lines. It’s a way to get the lines and melodies inside out bodies. Improvisation comes from within. Musical ideas that you are feeling, or hearing inside of you.

Yes I agree.

If you transcribe a 251 line. And then take it around all 12 keys, you should be able to sing it. I know after doing that I am able to. That’s always been a vitally important step for me.

Yes Transcribe is a huge asset when it comes to transcription.

Depending on the tempo, sometimes I can transcribe straight from Spotify. But it also can be fiddly with the slider to drag it back etc…

Also if the recording is not the best quality, then Transcribe is essential for me.

The more I do it Kim, the better I get at it, and I’m sure this will apply to you to.

Transcription Exercises In The Practice Inspiration Area

I will recategorise this post now, and also plan out a series of exercises for students to transcribe.

Hope this helps answer your questions and I’m really happy to hear you are getting more into transcription.

It truly is the most effective way to develop your own sound. ‘Stealing’ little nuggets from different solos, and those little nuggets turn into ‘words’, which with more ‘words’ then become ‘sentences’, which then become whole solos.

A fascinating process!.. Enjoy! :sunglasses:

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