I've read some good transcriptions recently and watched transcribe videos from 8-Bit Music Theory on YouTube and I was thinking if it's considered to be a good relative-pitch / interval / music practice if I try to transcribe songs? At first the ones I consider relatively easy than more complex ones.

  • I would hear the intervals and more and more "get used to them" with every step on the sheet.
  • I would see the structures of the songs I like so I could learn how it works and maybe get some inspiration.
  • I would hear more and more precisely the note in itself approximetly. For example I hear a note and I "it's definitely below D but I think it's above A" but instinctively.

Is this considered to be a normal, benefiting practice in general or I just need to practicing intervals and relative-pitch in its own?

- Sorry if I made grammar mistakes. -

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Transcribing music is EXCELLENT ear training practice. I like to tell students that transcribing one song to completion is like an entire semester of ear training.

Don’t just listen for intervals and notes, but form, where tension is created and released, see if you can name all the instruments, sounds, or stereo techniques (panning, phasing, etc).

Everyone should do more transcribing; I wish it was a core part of college / university study. They’ll have you transcribe 4-part harmony excerpts and rhythm excerpts, and sometimes melodies, but that’s it.

It’s normal and good and everyone should do it. Go forth and be merry.

  • Thank you! I like the idea to transcribe favourite or liked songs so after your answer I just find myself want to do it even more. On the other hand, I beleived it's part of the college / university study at least sometimes as some form of test or at least "homework". It's a bit sad to read the state of this subject. – atanii Dec 6 at 12:27
  • There is nothing better for your ears than using your ears. Transcribe away. It's so good. But it is hard to do. Don't get discouraged. Write down what you can hear and move on. As your ears get better go back and fill in the stuff you couldn't hear before. – b3ko Dec 6 at 12:50

Transcribing is a different type of practice than practicing recognizing isolated intervals, and it's also different from sight-singing, which is going the opposite way (from symbols to sounds). All three of these activities can be useful, and they all complement each other.

Transcribing is in some ways easier than hearing isolated intervals. Part of this is because if you know where you are in the key, you can usually rule out a lot of possibilities. E.g., if you're in C, and the tune moves up a step from F, you can pretty much anticipate that it's a whole step to G, not a half step to Gb. There is also usually a huge amount of repetition in music, and a huge amount of real-world music is certain patterns that you can recognize, e.g., a major scale, an arpeggiated minor triad in first inversion, a fragment of a chromatic scale, or a descending 8-5-1 (dropping an octave).

Another thing that tends to make transcribing easier is that you have two strategies for recognizing a note: you can recognize it relative to another note, or you can recognize it relative to the tonality. For instance, the sound of 7 going up a half-step to 1 is very easy to recognize, because you have that feeling of landing on the tonic. Another example is that often in major, you'll get sort of a pop-music cliche where minor iv is substituted for major IV. This is a very distinctive sound, and when you hear it in the melody, you pretty much know you have a b6.

Because the tonal context makes interval recognition easier, there is a pitfall, which is that people will learn to recognize intervals by memorizing how they occur in certain songs, e.g., "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" for a major 6th. The problem here is that in this tune, the major sixth is the 5th scale degree going up to the 3, but what happens when your brain has to recognize a major 6th that occurs as 1 going up to 6? It may refuse to recognize it because of the different tonal context.

Compared to transcribing isolated intervals, transcribing tunes is more relevant to real-world practice if you're a jazz musician. On the other hand, if you want to, e.g., learn to sight-sing atonal opera music, you probably want to make sure you can also recognize intervals without any tonal context.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.