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I noticed that sometimes when I'm transcribing a song in which the recording quality/mixing makes things hard to hear, I can sometimes be confused by the timbre of a musical part. For example, if the guitars sound very trebelly, I might get the register wrong, and spend time trying to figure out the part using the wrong notes. My theory regarding what happens is that the sound quality causes the fundamental to be harder to hear than the overtones, and that is what's causing the confusion.

Is that a reasonable explanation? Is this a common problem? Can I do something about it?

  • Do you play guitar yourself? – topo morto Apr 9 '18 at 14:29
  • I do play guitar – Nikita Kiryanov Apr 9 '18 at 16:57
  • Yes, a common problem. Combat it with practice and experience. No need to over-think the technical aspect. – Laurence Payne Apr 10 '18 at 14:50
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I think your idea is definitely reasonable: an emphasis in the treble part of any sound will tend to emphasize higher partials which could throw off your transcription. This is vastly more likely to only cause you to be incorrect about the actual octave of performance, although I see no reason—at least theoretically—that it couldn’t even potentially lead you to be off by a fifth.

The guitar would most likely have a treble emphasis either due to filtering or simply using the bridge pickup. It’s important to add that not only will these things provide an emphasis on higher harmonic partials, but perhaps even more significantly could emphasize inharmonic partials as well. These are partials that are not integer multiples of the fundamental, and they can throw a transcription off as well. An extreme example would be tubular bells: they have a spectrum that includes so many inharmonic elements that people often disagree about what octave the note is actually in. Some people will even tell you that you should write for chimes as if they transpose an octave lower than they are notated. Guitar tone is certainly more harmonic than bell tone, but, especially during the sound’s attack, there are still a substantial number of inharmonic partials. These would be emphasized at the bridge pickup and/or by any hipass filtering.

The best thing you can do, I think, it to try to learn enough about guitar performance techniques that you can judge the most likely interpretation. Study scores and professional transcriptions in order to get a better sense of what octave choices tend to happen in various circumstances.

  • I reckon that if the tone produces a problem such as this, it should affect all notes similarly, so the main problem will be everything could be perceived in the wrong octave. Which is quite an easy mend. – Tim Apr 9 '18 at 14:46
  • I think you’re probably mostly right @Tim , although some frequencies have different resonant amplitudes, and, most significant for this issue, some of the inharmonic partials are fixed frequencies (almost like formants) that will affect different notes in different ways. Specific octave questions would probably be fairly easy to guess with a little guitar knowledge, but some harmonies, for example, might become very difficult to disentangle. – Pat Muchmore Apr 9 '18 at 14:51

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