Should you be transcribing?

This week I'm trying something new - actually blogging.

Last week I sent out a survey to some of my students, asking them what they wanted to know from me, and I got a question about transcribing.

"Should I be transcribing my heroes? How do you go about doing that?"

I'm paraphrasing.

Below is the response I wrote, which I decided to turn into a blog post.

A great way to start off is as you have, by learning somebody else's transcriptions of your heroes, and by working your way through a course like mine, to make sure what you think you're playing is what it really sounds like, etc.

When you're done with the course, or as you begin to feel comfortable with the concepts, you're going to want to start seeking out people's vocabulary on your own. All the great players have done it. Mark G learned a ton of Roy Haynes when he was in high school. Eric Harland is said to have learned everything Jack DeJohnette played.

And the answer to that is less "clear cut" - it's basically, "you'll figure it out if you want it enough." But I'll give you a couple of shortcuts. Transcribe at the drums. Pick a very short section and play it on the drums, then play the recording back until it matches. If the sticking feels awkward, you're probably doing it wrong. Drummers don't improvise things that feel awkward - it's usually a deep variation on some kernel they're worked out.

(By the time you're done with my course, you'll have encountered just about every weird sticking I've ever seen drummers play.)

When you've got your one bar worked out pretty well, add the next. And so forth.

That's just stage one. Next is figuring out the DNA of the lick or chop. Because great players will take a simple concept and vary it and orchestrate it and twist and turn it 101 ways. So you should figure out what the original lick was, they you can put your own variations on it, and it becomes yours.

That's the intentional part. The other side is you kind of just absorb people's vocabulary organically if you listen enough to them, especially if you transcribe a little bit, learn it, let it sit, and just continue listening to a ton of that player.

Final advice is, when you're improvising, don't force it. Yes, you'll take somebody else's lick and practice improvising with it and varying it. But when you're practicing pure improv, which you should be doing (especially in the later modules of the course, where I've actually got it programmed), let alone when you're performing or rehearsing with a band, focus on playing sincerely, only what you hear, even if you have to play simply.

Don't worry - that fancy vocab you transcribed will work its way in there. Let it happen - don't make it happen.

Do you guys transcribe? If so how do you do it? Leave a comment below!