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I have attempted to transcribe an easy piano piece by ear via a score writer software whilst listening to recording, although it is going well - I am unsure whether or not this is the best way to transcribe music.

The other way I've heard is to work out the piece at the instrument (in this case piano) and write up the notation a bit at a time, though some suggest not to write up the notation at all which seems a little confusing to me.

The concern of doing it this way is that I would develop bad finger habits whilst to try to locate the correct notes, but at the same this method seems more efficient in the long run as I am physically playing what I am hearing then writing it down - making strong active associations.

These are just two methods I have encountered so far, and am I sure there are others, any ideas?

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    transposition is not the same thing as transcribing – Legorhin Dec 9 '19 at 17:36
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    Transcribing is writing down what you hear. Transposing is putting it in another key. I edited to fix this. – Karen Dec 9 '19 at 17:49
  • Avoiding playing by ear out of fear of inadvertently using "incorrect" fingerings is somewhere between ridiculous and tragic. :D I would use that as a warning example of what sort of weird stuff "proper" instrument training might cause. ;) If and I mean big if, you accidentally develop a bad habit, you might want to get rid of it later on, but it's much more important to be able to play by ear. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 9 '19 at 19:19
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The two listed methods seem to be training separate skills.

Transcribing by ear builds association between the sheet music and the pitches, as well as visualizing intervals, chords, and rhythms.

Playing by ear trains playing by ear (including hearing intervals and rhythms), as well as memorization. This is not transcription unless you plan on writing down the memorized song afterwards. Unless you are doing dumb things like playing different notes in a row with the same finger you shouldn't build bad fingering habits with this.

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  • Your second para doesn't make sense - ear is one thing, dots is quite another. – Tim Dec 9 '19 at 18:09
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    @Tim what is dots? – Legorhin Dec 9 '19 at 18:09
  • @Tim why couldn't there be a direct association between the dots that are written and seen, and pitches that are heard? Particularly if you're writing the dots to a score application which can play it back to you all the time. I think the paragraph makes sense. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 9 '19 at 18:14
  • I've found that I need to use some drastically different fingerings if I want to play some of the pieces I've transcribed and played by ear smoothly vs. roughly. (The rough fingerings, which I tend to intuitively use first, involve me using my pinky and/or thumb in several parallel fourths or fifths in a row, while the smooth fingerings do not.) It IS shockingly easy to develop bad fingering habits when playing by ear. – Dekkadeci Dec 9 '19 at 20:16
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First of all, congratulations! Transcribing and playing by ear is a big step in developing your musicianship in general and getting it to the next level. They are incredible tools for improvising, composing, phrasing, analysis, and many more music dynamics. It can be overwhelming for the beginner, and the best start is to just start doing it, so you are already on a great path.

though some suggest not to write up the notation at all which seems a little confusing to me.

The people that are suggesting you to not write down what you hear are most likely suggesting that you analyze what is being played, using both your ear and your instrument, before attempting to transcribe it. Or probably they mean that you need to practice to play what you hear, before practicing actual transcription. Whatever the case, don't over-think it, both skills (transcribing and playing by ear) help each other out, so practicing both at the same time is a good idea, and not an uncommon approach at all.

These are just two methods I have encountered so far, and am I sure there are others

They are not two different methods to achieve the same thing, they are two different things that achieve different things, but both are very useful at implementing the other. Playing by ear is more about translating what you think or what you hear into a note in your instrument or your voice. Transcribing, in the other hand, involves translating what you think or hear into the music staff. One is more like talking, the other is more like writing, both are incredibly useful skills for musicians to develop!

If you can easily play by ear, you can easily find the correct pitch and rhythm to write down in the transcription. If you can easily transcribe, you are aware of the whole pitch and rhythmic pallete a specific musical framework offers you. They are both abstractions of the same thing.

any ideas?

I think you are already good to start! Use what you already know, start with very simple songs. Use your ear to analyze what is going on in the song, play it in your instrument or sing it, and then transcribe it. That's a very effective, common, approach to practicing both transcription and play by ear.

Aimee Nolte has a very good video on exactly this:

The concern of doing it this way is that I would develop bad finger habits whilst to try to locate the correct notes, but at the same this method seems more efficient in the long run as I am physically playing what I am hearing then writing it down - making strong active associations.

During these exercises, try your best to keep good technique, but don't focus too much about it. Focus on hearing, playing, and transcribing successfully. Ideally, you have some times in the day or week to focus on that.

There are many approaches to transcription, and you can learn a lot by listening to experienced musicians. What to do, what to avoid, what to focus on, what to improve, all kinds of stuff. There's a lot of info in youtube and the internet in general, here's another one from another youtuber I follow regarding transcription that I think can be useful.

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The other way I've heard is to work out the piece at the instrument (in this case piano) and write up the notation a bit at a time,

This is a good method to train your ear identifying intervals and chords. And you should forget the problems concerning bad finger habits! You could play the keys even only with the pointing finger this wouldn't establish a bad habit.

It is normal that you are learning this way by trial and error as you can't identify the intervals and chords always from beginning, but if you practice this method you will train your ear and you will the longer the more you will make less mistakes. And then, later - when you are on a certain level - you can even try to focus also the fingering and attacking.

My way as beginner was first notate only the rhythm and bars and then pick out or focus on certain tones or melody motifs I was sure that they are correct ...

If you are asking for other ways:

  1. start with transcribing baby songs and children songs - if you are humble enough
  2. train your ear by solfege (singing scales, intervals and triads with doremi)
  3. try to notate - without instrument - a song you have learnt and compare your solution with a sheet music
  4. make a list of songs that have the same motifs: e.g. so la so mi

    (Blowing in the wind, silent night, we shall over come

Mind that these little melodies are the elements and the stones for transcribing what you hear and with which you will be able to build later your own songs.

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