Why Transcribe So Much?

Why do you transcribe so much music? Isn’t that just stealing? Can’t you write your own stuff?

Think of this way… a jazz player will memorize solos. All musicians practice. Orchestral players memorize famous solo passages and repertoire. So what do composers and arrangers do?

That’s right, we transcribe music by ear. Put it down on paper. If you, don’t you should. Let me explain.

Why Not Just Read Scores?

The goal of composing for large ensembles like this, is to get the sound that’s inside your head down on paper so it can be performed.

You can go a long way with studying scores, and you need to do it, but it’s not enough.

First reason is availability. Most modern scores are simply not published, or if they are, it’s probably something that everyone already knows anyway. What if you want to learn how an unpublished composer puts things together?

Second is you need to really win the knowledge for yourself. It’s sort of like trying to play a jazz solo from written music. Music is not the notation, the music is the sound. If you just snatch out lines, harmonies, and voicings from other scores, it won’t sound right when you go to use it. The voice leading won’t be right, the orchestration won’t be consistent.

The best way is to transcribe and keep doing it, all the time. It’s practicing. Want to get even better? Transcribe something by ear, and then check the score afterward to see how close you got.

The more you do it, the easier writing and arranging gets, because now all these sounds are in your head. They’re part of you.