Practicing Transcriptions

It’s not as easy as you think!

When we do a transcription exercise with our students in class that is exactly what we are practicing – the process of TRANSCRIPTION!

Yes of course we do have to learn and practice that process but it is learning and practicing the content of the transcription exercise that will actually help us get better.

If a language teacher only ever asked their students to “write down what I am saying” and did not spend time teaching content – vocabulary, spelling, grammar, sentence structure etc and then practicing and revising this content, then her students would not improve.

In our music classes we need to do the same and spend time teaching and then PRACTICING the content before we ask our students to recognise and transcribe it.


Let’s look at what our students need to KNOW in order to undertake the complex task of Melodic Transcription.

In order to be able to write down the notes from a melody we hear, onto the staff, we need to know the content of this melody very well.

  1. We need to KNOW the scale the melody is based on (preferably using tonic solfa - so we are conscious of what notes we are singing and aware of their function and place within the scale we are singing). This means we can sing the scale (in solfa AND in letter names belonging to various keys but most importantly the key of the transcription exercise), we can write the scale in solfa and on the staff, we can use the scale in compositions and improvisations etc. For example:
  2. We need to have sung (in solfa and in letter names) and analysed as many melodies as possible in the same tonality as the one we are transcribing. By analyzing I mean discussing the common “spellings” used in these melodies, important tonal notes (e.g. tonic, dominant)commons phrases, leaps, scalic passages, cadence points, underlying chords structures etc. For example:
  3. We also need to be able to compose in a similar style to these transcription exercises and then sing these compositions through in solfa etc.

The more singing and analysing our students do the better they will understand melodies and therefore be able to recognise most (if not all) of what they are expected to transcribe.

Rhythmic Transcription.

The same approach applies here but rhythmically instead of melodically.

  1. Rhythms need to be read (in rhythm names with conducting) as much as possible and For example:
  2. Rhythms need to be analysed so that the content, format, structure etc is understood and therefore can be recognised within a rhythmic transcription;
  3. As with melody, we also need to be able to compose in a similar style to these transcription exercises and then read these compositions through in rhythm names with conducting etc.


Harmonic Transcription (Chord Progressions).

This is probably the area we find the most difficult to “practice” as individually we cannot sing harmony…..or can we?

Activities such as:

  1. Singing basslines as chord progressions are played (in solfa of course). For example:
  2. Singing chord within a chord progression vertically. For example:
  3. Analysing chords found on each scale degree and then singing them accordingly – in context AND in abstract;
  4. Learning, and understanding the function of, cadences. For example:
  5. And, of course, our students need to be able to compose chord progressions - on the staff and in solfa/Roman Numerals etc - and then sing them through in all possible ways. For example:

These are the activities that will learn and most importantly PRACTICE chord progressions.

All other types of music transcriptions can be learned, studied and practiced in the same manner – by SINGING everything related to that element and by analyzing everything about that element. In this way we find we really KNOW the content we are being asked to transcribe so well it’s like writing down notes as someone speaks English to us!

Hope this helps your students to see real improvement!


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