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  1. #1

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    Which famous players (not limited to guitarists) didn't transcribe much, or at all? I've heard of Jim Hall, Peter Bernstein, and Julian Lage not transcribing very much during their development. I'm not advocating one approach over the other, I've transcribed a lot myself, but I'd be curious to see what other approaches people have taken to learning a Jazz vocabulary. Also, if there are any forum members that haven't transcribed much, how did you learn to develop melodic and harmonic lines/ideas?

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  3. #2

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    Gary Burton

  4. #3

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    Frank Vignola said that he never transcribed a complete chorus. Just some phrases from it.

  5. #4

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    Since he supposedly couldn't read music, I'd venture a guess that Wes Montgomery didn't transcribe. I suspect copping licks, and learning solos from recordings, is far more common than transcribing, which I understand to be writing out the notes. Listening to recordings and learning solos from them by ear is probably an essential skill for any jazz musician, whether or not the notes are ever written on paper.

  6. #5

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    Carol Kaye transcribed a few Charlie Christian solos early on but didn't think it was particularly helpful. (She started on guitar, not the bass, for which she is better known through decades of studio work, but she's also a guitar teacher.) It's not something she recommends.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    Since he supposedly couldn't read music, I'd venture a guess that Wes Montgomery didn't transcribe.
    Well, I understated transcribing as learning a solo even if you don't write it. But English isn't my first language as you can see, so...
    Last edited by clebergf; 05-17-2018 at 04:14 PM.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by clebergf
    Well, I understated transcribing as learning a solo even if you don't write it. But english isn't my first language as you can see, so...
    I think that's the general understanding. Wes learned several Charlie Christian solos note for note. That, for most, is "transcribing," even if he didn't write it down.

    In this context, "learn by ear" might be better than "transcribe."

  9. #8

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    Jim Hall may not have transcribed much, but he also plays a Charlie Christian solo note for note on his "Dedications and Inspirations" album. Pretty sure Wes did that too, has nothing to do with the romantic notion that he couldn't read music or whatever. He sure as hell understood music.

    It seems we have one of these threads very few months. I dunno. Usually, it sounds like looking for an excuse not to put in work.

    Also, in jazz vernacular, "transcribe" means "cop stuff off records" whether you write it down or not. I know some people get edgy about that. Get over it. Jazz has it's own language.

    Sorry, I'm tired and crabby

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Also, in jazz vernacular, "transcribe" means "cop stuff off records" whether you write it down or not. I know some people get edgy about that. Get over it. Jazz has it's own language.
    Willie Thomas (trumpet player, teacher) is big on this. His teaching materials always have a part where he plays something and you're supposed to play it back. (There's no written score in the book / chart.) The point is to develop one's ear.

    And this isn't an "either you got it or you don't" thing. One can develop one's ear. It's best to start simple, with just a few notes. (The pentatonic scale isn't the worst place to start.) Play something and then sing it. Sing something and then play it. Learn a blues head from a record, or just the opening phrase of a hot solo.

    AND MELODIES. The more melodies you know, really know, the easier it becomes to hear what is happening in improvised lines. Great melodies are great lines....

  11. #10

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    YES! MELODIES!

    I see so many young players get frustrated with transcription, and inevitably the first thing they're trying to tackle is something like Coltrane on 26-2. Baby steps!

  12. #11

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    I saw an interview with John Scofield where he said he'd never done much transcribing, he'd pick up a lick here and there but he certainly hadn't made a habit of transcribing whole solos.

  13. #12

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    Jessy van Ruller.

    ...as I know he played note for not only a solo of early Pat Martino "Just Friends".

  14. #13

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    Transcribing seems to be a little like using a metronome in that some people swear by it and others swear at it.

  15. #14

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    John Stowell apparently hasn't done any transcribing. I've also heard Chris Potter did a little (a couple Bird solos), but quickly started doing his own thing. David Binney said in an interview that he never transcribed, but one of his first teachers would have him write original solos on standard forms to get his ear used to using different harmonic concepts/patterns etc...

    I think a little transcription is worthwhile, but there are multiple ways of arriving a functional and versatile jazz vocabulary; Transcription just seems to be the most common.

  16. #15

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    I think the most important thing to take from all of this is--however you do it--train your ear, and listen to a ton of jazz.

    (FWIW, I've never transcribed and written down and learned to play at tempo a whole jazz solo in my life. I'm not "anti-doing that, " though. Now, when I was a kid I did this ALL THE TIME with rock/blues stuff I was into.

    But I've nicked hundreds, if not thousands of lines off jazz records. That's what I needed to do to get the sounds in my ear, and it's what I return to when I hear my playing and don't like the sounds I'm getting after. YMMV.)

  17. #16

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    I transcribe some solos or parts of them if I like them...it is a very good motivation for practising...

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Jim Hall may not have transcribed much, but he also plays a Charlie Christian solo note for note on his "Dedications and Inspirations" album
    Yup, I recall an interview where he said he only learned the solo to "grand slam" because he thought it was a perfect statement. Just listened to "bluesography." Story checks out

  19. #18

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    I have generally resisted transcribing because I find it laborious. I do occasionally figure out a short passage.

    This is not a recommendation. My vocabulary is far more limited than I wish it was, and that's probably because I haven't spent enough time transcribing.

    Or, maybe, it's that I didn't spend enough time taking ideas from records and figuring out different ways to apply them.

    OTOH, when I sing a line it's generally a better line than one I just play. So, I still have work to do to be able to get the lines in my head onto the guitar. Until I master that, transcribing won't help as much as it should.

  20. #19

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    I have a guy I study with that likes me to transcribe entire solos, and preferably play them in there entirety, especially with the recording. Which I oblige from time to time.

    But I get my best results by cherry picking phrases and licks that I like and click with me.
    Sometimes the shorter the line, the better. It will soon morph with other things and the rhythm will change for the situations.

  21. #20

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    Mick Goodrick never transcribed except to figure out specific things he wanted to learn specifically. He's had many students (Scofield, Wayne Krantz, Frisell, ... the list goes on) and he's always made it known that his approach was to spend the time devoted to finding your OWN way, approach and voice. Whether that included note for note transcription or not, he always emphasized "Know what's happening, don't play it if it's not yours. If you transcribe, change it until you own it." And spend your time learning how you put it together.
    A lot of great unique voices came out of that attitude.
    David

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz
    Mick Goodrick never transcribed except to figure out specific things he wanted to learn specifically. He's had many students (Scofield, Wayne Krantz, Frisell, ... the list goes on) and he's always made it known that his approach was to spend the time devoted to finding your OWN way, approach and voice. Whether that included note for note transcription or not, he always emphasized "Know what's happening, don't play it if it's not yours. If you transcribe, change it until you own it." And spend your time learning how you put it together.
    A lot of great unique voices came out of that attitude.
    David

    David, if you think about it, this sounds like good advice for a singer. (Not that it's not good advice for guitarists too.) When I think of what makes the singers I love best, well, the singers I love best, it's that they have their own way of doing things. Two or three of them might sound god-awful together but individually, they're something.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    David, if you think about it, this sounds like good advice for a singer. (Not that it's not good advice for guitarists too.) When I think of what makes the singers I love best, well, the singers I love best, it's that they have their own way of doing things. .
    Yeah it's an unfortunate matter of reality that we are not allotted an infinite amount of time to learn the language. A singer identifies with the musculature, the physical instrument that is their body. The relationship is intrinsic. In the effort to acquire the lexicon, syntax and semantic content of jazz, guitarists can choose to learn extrinsically, by playing the instruments, the notes and the songs of those who came before, or they can respectfully integrate that knowledge but focus on the intrinsic development of their own aesthetic sense.
    It's a balancing act for sure, but personally, I'd rather know another player's approach but develop my own approach that fits me physically, rather than imitate to the point where another person's sound is more natural than the voice you never found. Sometimes acquiring another person's totality of approach can impart intimate knowledge of the canon but when it comes time for innovation, another person's sound, when deeply ingrained, is not always easily unlearned.
    Transcribe to learn, not to protect yourself from the truth that you CAN'T play. You can get there on your own. The people you admire certainly did.

    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Two or three of them might sound god-awful together but individually, they're something.
    YOu are what you practice. Put the time into singing as a choir or as an ensemble and you learn what works... even if it's what makes you the Shaggs.

    David

  24. #23

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    Here's Michael Brecker talking about how he learned different Solos that he liked from Sax , Guitar , Keys, Trumpet ...from recordings ....kind of forget them ( not a great memory) but they would come out in his playing a few months later ...

    Go to about 11:30 :

  25. #24

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    I think this is where the Tristano school thing of learning to sing solos is really helpful. If you put the sounds in your head clearly and precisely by ear by singing it, the wisdom of the lines will come through in your playing in a more organic way. If you specifically learn lines on your instrument it might show up as finger memory, but not make any musical sense in a context it shows up in...

  26. #25
    I read somewhere that Kurt Rosenwinkel didn´t transcribed so much.

  27. #26
    Mulgrew Miller in Mulgrew Miller The Book says
    One of the big differences between me and probably ninety-five percent of other players you hear on the scene–I’ve done almost no transcriptions in my life … A person might learn all of that and may not really know how it was put together. He just knows what the notes are and learns those notes and plays them … when you copy it off the record it doesn’t mean as much.

  28. #27

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    Every professional jazz musician transcribed one or more solos...I am sure..;-)

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by kris
    Every professional jazz musician transcribed one or more solos...I am sure..;-)
    George Shearing?
    Art Tatum?
    Django?

    Huh, learn something new every day.
    David

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by rodolfoguitarra
    Mulgrew Miller in Mulgrew Miller The Book says
    One of the big differences between me and probably ninety-five percent of other players you hear on the scene–I’ve done almost no transcriptions in my life … A person might learn all of that and may not really know how it was put together. He just knows what the notes are and learns those notes and plays them … when you copy it off the record it doesn’t mean as much.
    I agree, but then I like to analyse every line I lift, so that way I can roll my own in the same vein...

    I almost think it's arrogant, lazy or both to avoid lifting the odd line. I resisted for a time feeling convinced that the lines I heard in my head were good enough. But when you get down to it, take any 2 or 4 bars out of any tune you like and play what you know over them, your very best ideas be they semi or fully improvised, or even not at all. Now go and see what Wes did over those bars, or Bird, or Rollins, or Jackie Mac, or Cannonball ....

    Pretty soon you might realise how high the bar has been set, which is a great thing if it makes you work a bit harder to lift your own game. Lifting is not just about appropriation, it makes you see that there are always cooler ways to get from one bar to another that exists in this vast storage of recorded tradition. When you become a lifter, you concede that 100 years of Jazz history (with some of the greatest musical geniuses of all time) can teach you a thing or two. It kicks your ass, and don't we all need a good ass kicking from time to time?

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I agree, but then I like to analyse every line I lift, so that way I can roll my own in the same vein...
    The lines I play are based on an understanding of the rules of form and possibility, and the ability to realize them in real time. The better I know the rules, the more I hear when I play and the more I hear from other peoples' playing. Actually they're inseparable. It's a self enforcing cycle for me.
    I like what you say about lifting. I don't transcribe solos off recordings myself, but I listen to a lot of live music. Every chance I get. I also record and document live recordings copiously and meticulously. 99% of what I record gets archived and is never listened to again, but there is that 1% time that I can instantly say "He (She) went there and did it!" and I'll go back and listen for the development of that idea, the evolution of that phrase in that particular solo, the other musicians and what they're contributing to that moment and what I know that musician is drawing from as far as the other things they MIGHT have played.
    I'll never play that phrase myself, but studying that captured moment will, in that 1% example, change the way I think about the entire process of composition and improvisation.
    I don't transcribe, per se, but I ALWAYS have a huge net out there for that one idea, phrase, solo or evening that touches on perfect balance.
    I can't recommend transcription from a personal stand point, because it's not in my SOP, but I can recommend seeing live music and listen and record when ever possible. There are things that happen in real time, with an audience's receiving ears and the knowledge of being heard, that tell you more than you can imagine.
    The chops, the ear chops you acquire from playing, thinking and listening in real time are not to be underestimated. I love being able to share the revelations with other musicians: " 'I loved the way you took that idea you had and made it into a rhythmic improvisation when you played that sticatto passage in the second chorus" and having them say "Yeah, the piece just fell into place in that one moment. Can I get a copy of that?".
    I can see the value of transcription, and the dangers of it, and I feel real time listening did the same thing for me.
    And it's made me a better player.

    David

  32. #31

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    I've said it here before, I don't remember where I first heard it, but I certainly didn't make it up...

    But in order to play "jazz," "jazz" has to be the music that plays in your head.

    All of these different things, intense listening, immersion, transcription, etc. are routes to that.

  33. #32

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    I think Transcribing is great. Everyone needs to develop their ear.

    As far as learning the language(still an ongoing process for me). We don't memorize entire sentences and paragraphs usually. Most of us learn verbal vocabulary one word at a time. Cherry picking and writing my own phrases has been the best for me. Even the phrases I pickup end up morphing into something else.

  34. #33

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    I can't imagine learning jazz without transcribing in any shape or form. I wouldn't trust a teacher who say it's ok not to learn the great's solos. In essence it's like giving a license to be lazy.

    One important thing my teacher emphasized though, analyze everything. Why those notes are there, what's the thinking behind how it's been played, why does it sound good. I'm convinced that's how you eventually find a concept for yourself, so you can play your own ideas, modify licks etc.

  35. #34

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  36. #35

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    Here's an interesting question. Jazz isn't the only musical tradition that improvises/composes in real time. Anybody know about how some of the other traditions in the world treat the importance of transcribing? Does the Indian Sarod player studying under a master spend a portion of their day transcribing the recordings of others? How much time does a bluegrass player spend with transcriptions? Balkan musicians have many more makam scale structures with microtones and subtleties between what we see as whole tones. How does transciption play into their training? I learned piedmont guitar from a man who knew, was peers and colleage with people like John Hurt and Gary Davis. He knew their styles by ear and heart and he showed me the tradition by playing with the subtlety of their individual nuance, yet he was different and never once told me to do things like he did; but I heard a lot in his playing. Our time together never included transcription as we know it. I studied the jazz tradition with people who not only knew the tradition, but were an integral part of that canon, and although transcribing was never discouraged, it was not in our direct tradition to consider it essential; though knowing another person's vocabulary was certainly a goal.
    But my question is, how do folk traditions teach their art to the next tradition and how is jazz different that so many consider learning without transcribing impossible or at least not legitimate?
    This is a serious question, and I'd love if we might have a conversation regarding this.

    Thanks
    David

  37. #36

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    Improvisation is a big part of Indian Classical tradition... But I know nothing about how they study it...

  38. #37

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    I know musicians that can improvise in a different style of classical music...not jazz.

  39. #38

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    Writing etudes can be a nice alternative to transcription: Taking a standard tune and writing melodies on it, making sure sure you can sing/play everything accurately with and w/o accompaniment. The goal is to get yourself closer to playing what you hear

  40. #39

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    I just read an old GP interview with Howard Roberts in which he reported that he didn't even own a record player for many years. He said that he would remember things he heard on the radio, but, apparently, never sat with a record player going over things repeatedly.

    Warren Nunes told me that if he heard a song once, he knew it for the rest of his life.

    Maybe some guys just remember music that well.

  41. #40

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  42. #41

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    hi there, i am a musician from austria/vienna, i teach at a universtity there.


    my personal opinion about transcribing:


    when i was young i transcribed a lot, but never wrote it down. just memorized it and tried to use parts in other tunes, keys, other chord patterns. was a lot of fun for me when i was younger: i learned say 4 bars, then the next 4 bars, always try to play from the beginning with the band, and so on..... this is much easier now- in my youth, i couldn´t turn the recording slow without changing the pitch, so i had to transcribe in realtime. i destroyed lots of casette recorders.


    one important things on transcribing in my opinion ist to play along with the record in real time and get part of it. sometimes it can take about a year, until the lines become something like your own- thats when you integrate it in a natural way into your melodies. the good thing on transcribing longer parts is that you hear also what the drums, bass, etc. play; and: you get the phrasing of the musician you transcribe. that makes you sound better- at least for a while.


    and the oldest rule: never transcribe too much from the same but steel from many.....????????

    best regards,

    andy bartosh

    Andy Bartosh: Gitarrist, Musikproduzent, L.B.A. Studio





    Last edited by Andy Bartosh; 05-21-2018 at 08:42 AM.

  43. #42

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    I think Peter Bernstein has mentioned a few time that he concentrated more on individual phrases than complete solos.

  44. #43

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    Specific case - I would advise a student learning bop to start with learning heads by ear. In general less and easier material to learn and you can play them on gigs. And you can get analysing them.

    Starting with learning a whole Bird solo would be less efficient use of time, but if a student wanted to do it, great.

    Young players seem to be obsessed with learning compete solos to performance level. I blame YouTube.

    Again not a bad thing per se. But if you want or go pro - if you can play several solos all the way through but don’t know many tunes, your priorities need work.

  45. #44
    Does anyone here care to share what they do with lines once they transcribe them? I've been taking lines that catch my ear and reworking them so that they best fit my technique and work in different harmonic contexts. Anyone have a different approach?

  46. #45

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    Yes! That's the fun part...someone once told me--never "borrow" licks, "steal" them, because when you steal something, you make it your own.

    I suppose the first thing I do is look at original context...then I think about other possibilities...then I'll try all sorts of things...other keys, other registers on the guitar...I've taken licks and learned them backwards, just to see what happens.

    The biggest thing for me is taking a lick and figuring out what the melodic "touchstones" are...I mean, you might have a four bar string of mostly eighths, but what notes jump out? I try and take that material most specifically, because then I have a skeleton that can easily be tweaked on the fly...

  47. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2fivefun
    Does anyone here care to share what they do with lines once they transcribe them? I've been taking lines that catch my ear and reworking them so that they best fit my technique and work in different harmonic contexts. Anyone have a different approach?
    Thats it pretty much for me. The trouble is when I listen back to my playing, when recording and stuff, I find the best sounding bits are phrases I stole from others... and my own shit dont sound as good haha. But its all in the tone anyway, thats where personality should come through IMO

  48. #47

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    Tone doesn't mean that much to me. Some of the greatest players I've heard had what I would call crappy tone. Joe Pass's tone was often awful. I'm not a huge fan of Howard Alden's tone. Tone can vary a lot from room to room, depending on the environment, and it doesn't really mean that much. But phrasing and melody matter. YMMV, and that's ok.

  49. #48

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    Tone doesn't mean that much to me. Some of the greatest players I've heard had what I would call crappy tone. Joe Pass's tone was often awful. I'm not a huge fan of Howard Alden's tone. Tone can vary a lot from room to room, depending on the environment, and it doesn't really mean that much. But phrasing and melody matter. YMMV, and that's ok.
    What i mean is tone as combination of pick attack, dynamics, intonation, articulation, etc. You play the same phrase as the next guy, but it will sound different.

  50. #49

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    My experience is as follows .. and it may be odd.

    Some things stick in my ear and get into my playing with almost no effort. I might work out a fingering or two and memorize the harmonic situation to which the lick applies and the interval of the chord it begins on.

    So, for example, I use a descending m9 arp (which I hear all over). So, I know it applies to a m7 type chord and starts on the 9. I like a fingering that starts with the 9 using the third finger on the high E.

    I have a few other things like that, but not many.

    The first time I heard lydian dominant I could play it.

    But, in contrast, I have worked for hours on other licks that I've liked and never was able to get them into my playing.

    In practice, when I solo I may use the licks that came easily (and mostly to bail out a line that isn't going anywhere), but mostly it's just trying to sing a line and play it, without patterns. I never end up playing any of the licks that I had to work on endlessly. I just don't get those integrated.

  51. #50

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    An observation after many years of discussing jazz on usenet and the web: The problem with these threads is always that "transcription" is an overloaded term: many people take it to mean "learn to play solos from records", and many people take it to mean "actually writing down the solo in musical notation".

    There is no real consistency in the use of the term "transcription" with regards to these two things, and that will always muddy the conversation.

    There are many ways to get to Rome, and there are definitely great jazz musicians who have never learned a solo in their life, and also definitely great jazz musicians who can play tons of solos, and so on. I often wonder what the OP is really trying to get at in these kinds of threads; are they asking because they aren't able to hear and play back musical phrases? Or are they asking because they have terrible handwriting and don't like writing notation? Or are they asking because they find memorizing music difficult?