Music seems to be full of contradictions. It is very simple but can sound
very complex at times. After all music is perceived by what we hear, and
what we understand about what we hear. Music as a language is a
conversation in sound based on what we hear, and want to say.
So it seems really important in order to join a conversation that we have
to understand the language being spoken. In order to learn that language
accurately.. Transcribing seems to be the way to learn the musical
A case in point is the music of Wes Montgomery. Although from what I have
learned is that Wes didn’t read music, and that he learned many of
Charlie Christian solos note for note. Obviously this gave him many
lessons in phrasing, playing variations of themes, rhythm choices etc.
That is probably one of the best ways to learn music and that is by
listening, although we all come to the table with different experiences. Listening and understanding what we hear is most important. Now Wes was
supposed to have learned a lot of his music before he even picked up a
So what he learned early on by listening to the masters like Charlie
Christian early on was only a springboard for him to find his own voice
and develop his own style.
The point I am trying to make is transcribing is an important part of a
musical education. Although Wes didn’t read, he aurally learned solos off
of records to learn the language and then was able to go on and have an
ability to express himself in that language. Transcribing is a way to
accomplish this, because it forces you to listen concentrating to the
music being played immediately.
By writing out the music you are accomplishing a variety of things at the
same time. You are learning how to notate rhythms, voicings, and melodies
and chords, phrasing and so much more. Especially when you spend time
with the music you like. You can take a lesson from any of your favorite
musicians or singers by learning to transcribe their music.
So Wes Montgomery is one of many who have learned by listening to those
who have come before and went on to express himself in the language of
music. That same door of learning is open to all listeners and players
I highly recommend transcribing as a method of learning. In fact it can
be considered as important as learning your instrument. Just think about
it. Gaining facility after hours of practice is good. Making music is a
complete other subject. Transcribing enables a student to absorb the
music and learn it on another level.
A good book that discusses music and transcribing thoroughly is Hearing
and Writing Music: Professional Training for Today’s Musician (2nd
Edition) by Ron Gorow. A no nonsense book that get’s right to the core of
what music is all about. From the basics of rhythm, intervals, and
harmony from an easy to understand point of view. It is a complete text
that even professionals hold it in high regards. I don’t recommend many
books. but for the sake of saving time in the learning curve this book is
a must have.