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How To Train Your Ear to Transcribe Music Quickly and Easily

notes on a staff
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How to Train Your Ear to Transcribe Music Quickly and Easily will teach you what you need to get started transcribing music just by listening and training your ear.

  1. Find a song that can be downloaded as mp3.
    • I’m using a song I wrote from Psalm 125, called “I’m Surrounded”.
    • Using Audacity, open the file and slow it down.
      • Using your mouse mark the area you want to slow down.  
      • Click on “Effects/Change Tempo”.  The dialog box that appears on the screen offers some choices. You can do a percentage change, beats per minute, or length in seconds. I use length in seconds to slow down the tempo of the section I marked.
      • This is saved with the .aup extension. 
    • If you need to repeat a section,
      • Go to “Effect/Repeat”
      • Go to “Transport/Playing/Loop Play”
  2. Chart the sections of the song on a piece of paper,
    • Sections are the intro, verse, and chorus.
    • See mine below.
      • It’s a sheet of paper with 4 blocks on each group of lines.  
      • This is my song map. You’ll notice lyrics, song sections, like verse, and chorus, and a little rhythm marking.  
      • This helps me remember the progression of the song from a high level.   
song map
song map
  1. Determine the Key
    • Listen for root movement –
      • Notice where the root of the chord is. For example, C is the root of the C chord.
    • Listen to the bass line to find the key of the song.
    • Listen to bass motion and chords.  
    • Track the bass part one note at a time.  
    • This helps determine the key and the chords of the song.
    • Listen for Chord quality –
      • Is it major or minor?
    • Are the chords Diatonic? – all from the same key.
      • For example, the C, F, and G chords are all from the same key. 
    • Use the circle of fifths
    • Notice each note moving right is 5 notes higher in a circle.
    • There are relationships between all the notes that are discernible in most songs
    • Observing this helps us determine the harmonic direction of the song.
  2. Use a DAW to separate sections and slow down the tempo.
    • This helps to understand one part before moving on,
    • Figuring out one part at a time can help with repeats.
    • Use relative pitch.
      • Sing the note you hear.  
    • Stop the playback. 
    • “If you can sing it you can find it”
    • Use a keyboard or guitar to find the note you are singing.
      • If you use GarageBand, add a software track for the piano.  This is how you can verify what the notes are before you write them down.
      • Match the keyboard note to the one you are singing.
    • Write down the name of the note by referencing the keyboard picture.
  1. Write notes on the staff.
    • Look carefully at the notes on the staff below. How do they align with what the keyboard above shows?  
    • I will offer you two tools to help with this step.  One is to download and use musescore.  Another is to use paper.  The choice is yours.
  1. Interested in hearing the final track? You can listen here – 

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