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  1. #1
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    Limitations of transcription

    Something I've been thinking about recently is the limitations of analytical transcription. The kind of thing where you write down a solo and analyse what's going on harmonically, for instance.

    Doing this with Hank Mobley recently, I was struck by the fact that the things that are most interesting about his solo - the phrasing and exactly where he was placing his notes etc - are things mostly poorly served by traditional notation.

    OTOH Hank's note choices kind of resemble a David Baker how to play bebop book - so I can see why his work is often used as a textbook by learning sax players. The classical clarity and precision of his line playing makes it ideal for this.

    But it's not where his creativity lies.

    In writing down solos and analysing players in this way, we are forcing them through the prism of Western Music notation (which simplifies the rhythmic aspect) and our own sensibilities, which might be shaped by our education system.

    The rhythmic aspects that can be written down are the most obvious - things like - 'oh here is a 5 on 4 grouping in eight notes' - etc... But doesn't touch on the detailed aspects of a players beat placement etc.

    As a result the players that look most interesting on paper - for example the Coltrane solo on Limehouse blues - might tend to get favoured as 'advanced' or 'progressive' at the expense of someone whose subtly is primarily in the micro-rhythmic, phrasing or tonal sphere. In short, we turn jazz into classical music simply be writing it down.

    In the long term this might encourage players within a system of education that encourages players to write solos down for assignments etc to become preoccupied with note choices etc rather than the other aspects.

    Bear in mind I'm not knocking Trane at all - there's a lot in his playing that can't be written down as well. I'm also not knocking the practice of writing down solos - I think it's just something to bear in mind when doing it.

    This is probably a pretty obvious thing, but it just stuck me.
    Last edited by christianm77; 09-14-2017 at 05:47 AM.

  2. #2
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    Its the transcribing to the instrument that differentiates the process from classical procedure . I'm a fan of getting it all to the axe before writing it down, rhythm inflections, articulation etc. Notation is good - but I reckon put it at the end of the aural cycle.
    "I thought I was in Heaven, but I was only up a tree"

  3. #3
    As a player with limited abilty and time, and nobody at a similar basic level near me to play with, I end up practising and learning, mostly in isolation. I can honestly say that since I have got basic theory out of the way, transcribing (not writing down, but listening hard and learning) is by far the most fruitful exercise for me. It is the only way to challenge my ears rather than my brain. I dip into other stuff, but I almost always wish I had just spent the time listening and learning. However I am still a beginner so perhaps I'll change my approach in the future.

  4. #4

    yeah hank mobley this will inspire anyone to learn this...hank transcription online

    Last edited by voxss; 09-14-2017 at 11:35 AM.

  5. #5

    get off your seats look at that body language

    get off your seats look at that body language

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Something I've been thinking about recently is the limitations of analytical transcription. The kind of thing where you write down a solo and analyse what's going on harmonically, for instance.

    Doing this with Hank Mobley recently, I was struck by the fact that the things that are most interesting about his solo - the phrasing and exactly where he was placing his notes etc - are things mostly poorly served by traditional notation.

    OTOH Hank's note choices kind of resemble a David Baker how to play bebop book - so I can see why his work is often used as a textbook by learning sax players. The classical clarity and precision of his line playing makes it ideal for this.

    But it's not where his creativity lies.

    In writing down solos and analysing players in this way, we are forcing them through the prism of Western Music notation (which simplifies the rhythmic aspect) and our own sensibilities, which might be shaped by our education system.

    The rhythmic aspects that can be written down are the most obvious - things like - 'oh here is a 5 on 4 grouping in eight notes' - etc... But doesn't touch on the detailed aspects of a players beat placement etc.

    As a result the players that look most interesting on paper - for example the Coltrane solo on Limehouse blues - might tend to get favoured as 'advanced' or 'progressive' at the expense of someone whose subtly is primarily in the micro-rhythmic, phrasing or tonal sphere. In short, we turn jazz into classical music simply be writing it down.

    In the long term this might encourage players within a system of education that encourages players to write solos down for assignments etc to become preoccupied with note choices etc rather than the other aspects.

    Bear in mind I'm not knocking Trane at all - there's a lot in his playing that can't be written down as well. I'm also not knocking the practice of writing down solos - I think it's just something to bear in mind when doing it.

    This is probably a pretty obvious thing, but it just stuck me.

    The writing down, for me, is just to keep track as I go...I'd never want to show it to anyone.

    The biggest value in transcription--or stealing shit, as I call it, is all the close listening I have to do. And it's the cool rhythmic ideas that rub off most.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
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    "Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action?"

    --Adam West, as Batman, 1966.

  7. #7
    What Jeff said. Writing down is only for keeping it on file. Mostly I rely on my memory though. Also, it's so painful and tedious for me to convert sounds into notation that I try to avoid writing as much as possible.

  8. #8
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    I don't write anything down, I'm training my ears, fine tuning a lot of nuance.

  9. #9
    If we're learning outside the system we have to come up with our. I have no reason to transcribe and put something on paper. The only time when I write something down is if it's a contrafact. It's a way to remember something if I'm spending a great deal of time on one song.
    We all benefit from what's already been transcribed. No sense in saying it's useless.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by gator811 View Post
    Its the transcribing to the instrument that differentiates the process from classical procedure . I'm a fan of getting it all to the axe before writing it down, rhythm inflections, articulation etc. Notation is good - but I reckon put it at the end of the aural cycle.
    That's a different practice exercise.

    Actually, I tend to find for me that actually playing the stuff on the instrument is the easy bit (unless it's Bud Powell or something.)

    The difficult bit for me is always remembering the phrase and being able to hear it clearly in my head, sing it etc. Probably varies from person to person...

    OTOH if I put it on the instrument early in the process, if my recall of it is primarily kinaesthetic, I usually forget that solo 12 months on. Not a bad thing per se, but it's what happens.

    But that's another thread. I'm really I'm talking about the practice of writing things down and analysing them which is what a lot of people do, especially for college assignments etc...

  11. #11
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    BTW if you don't write stuff down IMO it can hardly be called tranSCRIPTion. It's 'learning solos off the record.'

    But that sounds a lot less official of course ;-)

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    BTW if you don't write stuff down IMO it can hardly be called tranSCRIPTion. It's 'learning solos off the record.'

    But that sounds a lot less official of course ;-)
    It's 'lifting', man. As in "I just lifted this super-hip Hank Mobley line".

  13. #13
    Transcription is jazz-formal for lifting. See also "copping."
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action?"

    --Adam West, as Batman, 1966.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    Transcription is jazz-formal for lifting. See also "copping."
    I don't want to quibble to much about this usage (which I think is a poor and confusing usage, but hey ho, this is from the same guys who brought us 'mixolydian' for a b7 scale, and we are stuck with it) - but we are getting away from the point which is that doing the specific thing I have outlined in the OP gives you one specific understanding of the music that is geared towards

    Lifting or copping - the appropriation of lines from a transcription is not necessarily the same thing. It's possible to lern a solo and not appropriate any licks at all. You might ask - why? Of course, but its not a foregone conclusion.

    When you have a solo done, what do you do with it? Just take licks and put them through the keys? Take them as licks you can use on certain chords etc? Or do you analyse the lines in terms of some theory? Or just move onto the next thing?

    BTW See the thread on Mike Longo - Longo advocates 'transcription' but not 'lifting' - interestingly.

    There is also the way to learn solos that does not involve your instrument - what Tristano taught.

    So there are many filters to view music from. Not saying there are right or wrongs or answers, but questions you can ask when you are going about this type of work. I've experimented with a few different ways of doing things, and they have taught me different things.

  15. #15
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    BTW if you don't write stuff down IMO it can hardly be called tranSCRIPTion. It's 'learning solos off the record.'
    Yeah its a jazz appropriation - Leibman adopts it to mean both anyway.

    I find it problematic to separate them but wouldnt ever invalidate either as an individual pursuit - it depends on what the end game is.
    "I thought I was in Heaven, but I was only up a tree"

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by gator811 View Post
    Yeah its a jazz appropriation - Leibman adopts it to mean both anyway.

    I find it problematic to separate them but wouldnt ever invalidate either as an individual pursuit - it depends on what the end game is.
    I don't think any of it is invalid, but a consciousness of how you can approach is certainly a good thing.

    Lifting licks and lines - well I don't really do that at the moment (unless it's a *really* cool lick.) For myself, I feel I need to get out of the imitation phase, not knocking it for some people, just speaking for myself. I would rather use 'transcription' as a way of modelling improvisation by ear, rather than using it as a way of getting language. I have enough 'language' by now.

    I am reminded of a friend, a very good sax player who went to sit in at a top level jam in NY. After playing an old cat looks at him, sizes him up and says 'yeah I have all those records, too.'

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    I don't think any of it is invalid, but a consciousness of how you can approach is certainly a good thing.

    Lifting licks and lines - well I don't really do that at the moment (unless it's a *really* cool lick.) For myself, I feel I need to get out of the imitation phase, not knocking it for some people, just speaking for myself. I would rather use 'transcription' as a way of modelling improvisation by ear, rather than using it as a way of getting language. I have enough 'language' by now.

    I am reminded of a friend, a very good sax player who went to sit in at a top level jam in NY. After playing an old cat looks at him, sizes him up and says 'yeah I have all those records, too.'
    Sounds like there are as many twats in the jazz world as anywhere else. I need to listen hard as I can't yet recognise chords by sound, and although I have sounds in my head I want to play, they are not clearly defined enough to get them on the instrument. For me it is a way of testing my ears and learning a "language". Now if I was a egocentric prat, I might want to sit in at a jam session and spoil everyones fun by making a horrible noise. It's my responsibility not to do that. However if I was a competent player that could happily join in without being too original, I wouldn't be messing up anyone's night, and anyone who made snide remarks would just be being an arsehole. Everyone has to start somewhere, and surely jam sessions need to be a place that the brilliant and the mediocre player can be accomodated, otherwise how will anyone learn other than at music school, which doesn't always produce the best players anyway. For example there was a time in my town when all I ever heard was "time no changes" at conservatoire nights which is both extremely exclsive and also excruciating for the listener if not for the performer but I suppose that is a different topic.
    Last edited by plasticpigeon; 09-16-2017 at 05:33 AM.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by plasticpigeon View Post
    Sounds like there are as many twats in the jazz world as anywhere else. I need to listen hard as I can't yet recognise chords by sound, and although I have sounds in my head I want to play, they are not clearly defined enough to get them on the instrument. For me it is a way of testing my ears and learning a "language". Now if I was a egocentric prat, I might want to sit in at a jam session and spoil everyones fun by making a horrible noise. It's my responsibility not to do that. However if I was a competent player that could happily join in without being too original, I wouldn't be messing up anyone's night, and anyone who made snide remarks would just be being an arsehole. Everyone has to start somewhere, and surely jam sessions need to be a place that the brilliant and the mediocre player can be accomodated, otherwise how will anyone learn other than at music school, which doesn't always produce the best players anyway. For example there was a time in my town that all I ever heard was "time no changes" at conservatoire nights which is both extremely exclsive and also excruciating for the listener if not for the performer but I suppose that is a different topic.
    These clubs will have some association with the schools one way or another.
    The only place to start is school.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by plasticpigeon View Post
    Sounds like there are as many twats in the jazz world as anywhere else. I need to listen hard as I can't yet recognise chords by sound, and although I have sounds in my head I want to play, they are not clearly defined enough to get them on the instrument. For me it is a way of testing my ears and learning a "language". Now if I was a egocentric prat, I might want to sit in at a jam session and spoil everyones fun by making a horrible noise. It's my responsibility not to do that. However if I was a competent player that could happily join in without being too original, I wouldn't be messing up anyone's night, and anyone who made snide remarks would just be being an arsehole. Everyone has to start somewhere, and surely jam sessions need to be a place that the brilliant and the mediocre player can be accomodated, otherwise how will anyone learn other than at music school, which doesn't always produce the best players anyway. For example there was a time in my town when all I ever heard was "time no changes" at conservatoire nights which is both extremely exclsive and also excruciating for the listener if not for the performer but I suppose that is a different topic.
    OK, a couple of things to put the story in context - 1) the 'old cat' was held in high regard by the sax player, 2) the sax player is a top sax player on the UK scene, a vet with plenty of confidence who has worked with top players in NY as well.

    He chose to take it as a lesson.

    As I am sure he'd remind us, that's the way the elder players often taught - laconic, sometimes hurtful, but with a 'ring of truth.' They didn't mince their words and as far as they were concerned, if you get hurt by comments like that you should find another line of work. It was part of their world. Think of Miles, for instance.

    I personally think that I would have been crushed if someone had said that to me, but I also think I would have picked myself up and realised the importance of that lesson. It's a big thing. If someone says this stuff to you, they are testing your mettle as well. Are you serious? Or do you want people to tell you are great all the time?

    Think about it... It's no disrespect either - it takes work to get that far. I'm sure if he hadn't done that work, an elder would have been quick to observe that fact too. It's actually - 'OK I hear your reverence for and knowledge of the music, but who are you?'

    If someone said a laconic, harsh comment like that to someone just getting together, they would be a twat. But those same people are usually full of kindness and encouragement in those situations (not always though lol!)

    When you are trying to make it as a pro, the ultimate compliment is to be taken seriously. This can hurt. But you need to get rid of your ego, and fast.
    Last edited by christianm77; 09-16-2017 at 07:24 AM.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    After playing an old cat looks at him, sizes him up and says 'yeah I have all those records, too.'
    Best riposte deserves five pounds.
    "Each heart vibrates to that iron string."
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    (who obviously played in Carl Kress tuning)

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot View Post
    Best riposte deserves five pounds.
    Shame you haven't listened to them m*th*rf*ck*r?

  22. #22
    Yeah, but I slept at a Holiday Inn last night...

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    Transcription is jazz-formal for lifting. See also "copping."
    It's funny, I never thought of 'lifting' in the 'theft' sense - I think I was picturing scraping the line off the vinyl with a spatula.

  24. #24
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    That's where I've been going wrong then

  25. #25
    I "lift" when I hear something that catches my ear and I want to recreate it in other situations, but I can't figure it out how to get the sound.

    So, for example, I recall hearing, Rodney Jones, I think, take a nice solo with Maceo Parker and something caught my ear. When I finally figured it out, it was an arpeggio on a tritone sub. Not that exotic, but it sounded great to me. Armed with that much knowledge, I was able to use the device in other tunes and, eventually, was able to hear it in my mind without thinking about keys or intervals or theory.

    Sometimes, I can figure out what the guitarist was thinking, down to the likely fingering. Other times, it remains a mystery, why those notes? How does that lay well on guitar? If I can figure out what the player seemed to be thinking, then it's easier for me to recreate the sound.

  26. #26
    Agreed 100%.

    Quote Originally Posted by gator811 View Post
    Its the transcribing to the instrument that differentiates the process from classical procedure . I'm a fan of getting it all to the axe before writing it down, rhythm inflections, articulation etc. Notation is good - but I reckon put it at the end of the aural cycle.

  27. #27
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    I don't see notation at the end of the cycle....

    More like a triangle with ears, instrument and notation at different points. You can work on strengthening any one of those sides.

    Limitations of transcription-drawing-jpg

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    I don't see notation at the end of the cycle....

    More like a triangle with ears, instrument and notation at different points. You can work on strengthening any one of those sides.

    Limitations of transcription-drawing-jpg
    Sure -the voice should be in there too. As I said I wouldnt invalidate any of them - as each point in the cycle serves a function- but when it comes to improvising there is also a tradition of 'copping' stuff from other players that goes back to the roots of the music - advocated by some luminary teachers and players. More abstract thinking - the kind of thing Longo talks about has been part of the developmental curve of most players - usually at a more advanced stage, but the role of notation in that isnt really clear.
    Notation historically is a means of recording - and of course its a means of delivering information. But in both it's limited in what it can deliver - especially in an era where the means of recording music is so at hand.
    It can be advantageous if one wants to abstract the music down to unaffected information - and I also think transcribing to notation supports better sight reading too.
    As far as formal transcription as assignments for music students - as a teacher I have set many of these assignments over the years - as part of a jazz theory programme. But unless one is actually doing it in class ( which was a big part part of my Conservatory training) , there are so many ( technological) ways students can shortcut the process these days - not all of course, but if it comes down to grades for a degree, well some go the easy route.
    Not only that but the internet is now rife with transcriptions of solos - finding one that hasnt been posted becomes more and more challenging - its always disappointing to find an assignment that has been copied from an internet version which is full of wrong notes! . But if a student has to perform a solo - or as in most cases part of a solo -there are no shortcuts - even if they use notation to get there. And all of the information is experienced in aural and tactile form. At a developmental level - getting something from there back to notation is just as valuable - and you know the student has, at least for the time being internalised the music.
    Last edited by gator811; 09-17-2017 at 05:37 PM.
    "I thought I was in Heaven, but I was only up a tree"

  29. #29
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    Ears/voice is a close link - closer than many think (because they have been conditioned into thinking you can't sing.)

    For a pianists this triangle looks closer to a straight line, BTW, because notation and instrument map very closely.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot View Post
    Best riposte deserves five pounds.
    'yeah I have all those records, too.'

    "so, don't you like them?"

    "cool, what's your dj name?"

    "yeah, so does kenny g"

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