Why You Should be Transcribing

When asked about how they learned to make music, any musician will answer with some variation of ‘I listened to a lot of music and learned to play what I liked’. The technical term for this process is called ‘transcription’, and it is absolutely integral to progressing as a musician. As I tell many of my students, learning music is very similar to learning how to speak a new language. You have to learn the alphabet, how to create words, and string words together to form coherent ideas that make sense to a native speaker.

In your native language, I doubt you have to think very hard about communicating your ideas to someone else. This is because the way you absorbed all of that information was so complete it is second nature now. Because music is so similar to spoken language, the best way to learn music is to emulate how you learned to speak your first language.

Generally speaking, we learn our first language through constant absorption – people speaking to you or to each other while in your presence – which we then try to repeat. And when we try to repeat it, we fail. A lot. But instead of ridicule or saying ‘well maybe speaking just isn’t for you’, we receive constant positively phrased corrections until we finally master the word or phrase.

To translate this method of learning to your pursuit of music, you need to do three things: listen to music constantly, try to repeat what you hear, and spend time with musicians who are knowledgeable and happy to help you correct your attempts. This method of learning will give you a deep, second-nature understanding of music without fail.