I am a huge fan of ballad type music and want to get better at writing for strings but have not been able to find some scores or transcriptions of songs that I like so I have decided to try transcribing them myself, however I find myself having a hard time distinguishing each section from each other and overall having trouble figuring out what is being played. Can any of you suggest to me some tips to get better at transcribing string parts in a song?
- Learn to play songs by ear. Learning to distinguish and reproduce chords and melodies is your essential bread-and-butter tool for making transcriptions. Where is the root note, where is the bass note i.e. what inversion is it, is it a major or minor third or a sus4, is there a major or minor seventh, augmented or diminished fifths, etc.
If you can't play songs by ear as melody and chords, trying to transcribe complicated things like exact string parts is going to be very difficult, and you would be essentially trying to replicate something by only looking at small details and not seeing the structure of the bigger picture.
Tips related to transcription tools and techniques:
- Use a sequencer program that lets you write the transcription as MIDI notes, and play the transcription and the original audio together in sync
- Pan the original and the transcription to different sides of the stereo field, e.g. your transcribed notes to the left and the original to the right, and listen to them in sync. The panning helps a lot in separating the transcription and the original and hearing if you got the notes right. This helps hearing both the timing and the pitch aspect. Do the left and right sides play the same thing? If they're both panned center, it's much more difficult to distinguish what is what.
- Test your note and harmony guesses by deliberately changing them, trying out different choices. Which one is closer?
- Use equalization to mask out parts of the spectrum like the lowest bass, and to help you concentrate on the frequencies you want to hear.
- Slow the audio down with a time-stretching function, keeping the original pitch
- Play the section you transcribe in a loop, so you don't have to stop and rewind all the time
- The "Transcribe" application can help by giving a visual "note guess" view
- (For a sequencer program I recommend Ableton Live, which has superb time stretching and syncing capabilities)