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A Different Way To Transcribe

One of my favorite classes in college was Jazz Theory. My professor, Ralph Bowen, was so insightful and knew how to go about understanding the nuances of music. One of the assignments in the class was to transcribe a song off of John Coltrane's album Interstellar Space. It is daunting to think about trying to transcribe anything off of that album using the standard way we transcribe. Therefore, I present to you the way Professor Bowen showed us to transcribe. I call it "Map transcription".

Traditional vs Mapping

A traditional way to transcribe would be using western notation and transcribing a solo of a particular instrument. It would include notating the notes and articulations of the solo and you would focus on what and how the soloist played.

Mapping focuses on what is happening between all instruments and when it is happening. Thus, it is more about the interaction and concept behind what the musician is playing.

As you can imagine, both ways have their pros and cons. However, the big pro to mapping is that it covers the entire duration of a piece of music not just a single solo. Also, it doesn't cover only one instrument. Here is my transcription to give you a better idea of what I am talking about.



There are several things you will discover by transcribing this way. One thing is interaction between musicians. Comparing what different instruments are doing at the same time gives you an idea of what the musicians are thinking and can teach you to do the same in your playing. For example: "Is the drummer playing to match or contrast the playing of the other musicians? Why is the saxophone playing groups of 5, is it because he just heard the drummer doing that?"

Another discovery is the effect of dynamics and other expressions in relation to the arc of the piece of music. I definitely discovered this in my transcription; the build of dynamics to get to a climax. However, it could be how a piece starts and stays quiet and the effect of that.

In relation to the arc of a piece is the effect of different sounds/orchestration. In my transcription, John Coltrane goes from smooth sounds to grittier sounds and Rashied Ali varies his use of cymbals and drum sounds. Transcribing this way will tell you when they do this and give you an idea of its function and use.

Additionally, you can always incorporate traditional transcription into mapping by using a google doc add on called "music snippet". Check it out, it is a great tool to quickly put music notation in a word doc.

How To Get Started

Mapping is great for transcribing highly improvised music such as Interstellar Space, but it can be used with any style of music. Attached below is a template for you to use to get started. I would recommend listening to the piece all the way through a couple of times before you write anything down because you will have an idea of the arc of the piece. First, fill in the instrumentation (drums, sax, etc.).Next, figure out the sections of the piece and align those with time intervals. Then fill in the rows with details and perhaps notation of the sections for each instrument.

Hope you try this out! Leave a comment if you have done something similar or if you have any ideas about this concept.

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Peter Rushing
Peter Rushing
Aug 09, 2023

I like how you formatted the post -- very neat and easy to follow. Never heard of the music snippet add-on before and I like that you included the template too.

Aug 11, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Peter!

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