Do a transcription

I think transcribing is a really useful thing to do.

I see it as a replacement for not having a body of work to study, like you do if you study classical guitar, classical piano, etc. For example, all classical guitarists will know the Villa-Lobos stuff, Sor, and all the rest of it. And that’s a good thing. If everyone knows that stuff, we can all discuss how to play it well. But there isn’t that kind of canon for rock, blues, jazz and so on. So we learn from listening to other recordings, gigs, jams and we figure it out.


Transcribing offers a chance to get stuck into the details, but there are drawbacks. You can end up being cursed by being infected with someone’s nuanced way of playing and that can mask your own voice. So you may have to purge yourself of that, or be content to wear your influences on your sleeve. Also, you can transcribe stuff and miss the point of working on YOU. It feels good to play stuff that you know sounds great, so that can be a trap, too.

Another trap can be not allowing yourself to be rooted in something for a long time; for something to unfold. That kind of thing you get if you have the canon. You play the Chopin E Minor Prelude all your life – it’s not like you’ll ever get to the end of, ‘right, I know that one now’. Maybe the closest that an improvisor can get to that is to understand what it means to be in the moment, or what it means to tell a story.

Always good to hear the gods of music showing us that, eh?

So, I’ve gone WAY off topic in this pile of gibberish.

Actually, don’t do any transcription :)

Comments on Do a transcription

  1. Adam Moore says:

    No, indeed, the Vai stuff has gotten mixed up with enough other things – some intentional, some not- to no be an issue any more.

    Electric Campfire seems a great way of presenting music and the guitar in a way that avoids all that nonsense, keep up the good work!

  2. Mike Outram says:

    Yep, I agree with you about the way music is presented. I think it’s really important to counter that guitar macho thing. Gtr mags are unbelievably bad at fuelling that stuff. It’s really lame.

    Doesn’t stop you doing something about that in your own way, though :)

  3. Adam Moore says:

    “You can end up being cursed by being infected with someone’s nuanced way of playing and that can mask your own voice.” This is a really good point, I know I spent too long on some of Steve Vai’s music and now I have to actively avoid reproducing his way of phrasing in my own playing.

  4. Mike Outram says:

    It’s not preservation, is it? That’s recording. More like interpretation – and that’s always evolving, too.
    Agree with your last paragraph. Bang on, fella :)

  5. Steve Lawson says:

    I haven’t done any transcription in years. I do sometimes wonder what I’m missing out on, and also what I have that I might have missed if transcription had been my main way of building new vocabulary… I like your warnings here – the awareness of the value of having a canon of work is a good one. I think for the most part it doesn’t fit because we’re playing in a constantly evolving ‘folk’ music environment – music by the people, for the people, about the world we live in – we’re not really in the business (for the most part) of preservation. It’s progressive and developmental, the opposite of canon, in a sense.

    But a disregard for the ‘tradition’, for roots, history, context, has lead to so much meh music over the years. there were a lot of musicians in the 80s who were learning funk from disco and fusion, who did no homework, so missed the context and the history. The hypermodernity of the 80s and into the 90s caused many people to view ‘old’ music is past it, not worth considering… now that we’ve got all these badass new synths ‘n’ shit…

    So maybe our canon is about a body of work that we need to honour and respect the context and processes of, rather than ‘learn’… In the same way that writers really need to be hip to Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer while never having any need to ape them, there are certain bodies of work that reward patient attention. Miles, Ellington, Motown, Joni, The Beatles, Brother Beyond… the good stuff :)

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