One of the most effective ways of becoming a better guitar player is learning how to transcribe. Why is it so important? Manually writing down riffs helps ingrain the notes into your brain. There’s a special thing that happens when you put pencil to paper in regards to memory - it also frees you up from using tab.
Transcribing helps add to your musical vocabulary and really develops your ear. Writing down and learning riffs from your favorite players allows you to build a lick library. You’ll be able to take bits and pieces from all of your favorite players, and by learning the notes, you’ll learn the theory behind what they were doing.
This will require that you understand how to read music and start learning theory - both great skills to have. This doesn’t just apply to guitar riffs, as you can transcribe horn players, piano players, singers and more. The more you transcribe, the more patterns you’ll see, and this will help push your playing along as a guitarist.
How do I get it done?
We live in an awesome time - there’s a wealth of apps and software that can help us become better musicians. This is stuff that we didn’t have 20, even 10 years ago. One of my favorite apps to use is Transcribe! from Seventh String Software. I first found out about this program after watching Levi Clay use it to transcribe solos. He used Transcribe! along with Guitar Pro (which is another indispensable program) to get everything down.
The way he transcribed, reminded me of watching Troy Grady in his Cracking the Code series. He’d take a riff, record it on his keyboard which would slow it down, and then attempt to watch the VHS tape of the player in slow motion. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since VHS and keyboard recorders.
What makes Transcribe! awesome?
When working on a difficult section of music, you’re likely to break it down into more manageable parts. Transcribe gives us an easy way to look at any audio file as a stereo waveform, and then slow down a looped section so you can pick apart what notes are being played. The best part? The pitch isn’t changed when slowing the part down.
There’s a way to set markers throughout the entire song so you can mark up the waveform and know where sections of the song are. And there’s even a piano and bunch of effects to make transcribing any song easier. If you’re learning covers, but need to transpose the song for the key you’ll be playing in, you can transpose the song up or down 12 half steps, while still keeping the original speed of the song.
While slowing down audio is incredibly helpful, my favorite part of using Transcribe, is that it allows you to import video that can be slowed down as well. I was working on a difficult part where I wanted to understand what the heck was going on fingering and pick hand-wise, and using a playthrough track, was able to nail the part by understanding what the player was doing.
My challenge to you
Working on anything for a month consistently will give you a big push in your playing. Here’s my challenge to you - download Transcribe, which has a 31 day trial (no limitations), and try and work on transcribing 3-5 riffs a week, all month.
I’m sure that by the end of the month your ear, and guitar playing will have taken a big jump. Most importantly, have fun! Being able to transcribe something accurately is really rewarding. Let me know what song you start with by reaching out on Twitter or Facebook.