Music Transcription

Music TranscriptionMusic Transcription.

If you need music transcribed there’s a few things you should know so that you can be sure of getting a quality, accurate transcription.

1. Transcribing music takes time and patience!

There are no short cuts when it comes to accurately notating audio to sheet music. No matter how good your ear is, this skill requires a great deal of experience to understand exactly what you’re hearing and how to notate it clearly. Personally, I listen to the whole piece several times (always with good quality headphones) and then a place a marker every bar (measure) for the entire piece. I transcribe each bar by looping the audio and when it’s all done I go back over the entire track and make sure I haven’t missed anything. Now it’s time to tidy up the layout. Although there is software available which says it can “transcribe” audio I’ve never seen anything that produces intelligent results that a musician can actually read and make sense of.

Music Transcription
Music Transcription Software

2. Make sure you get to hear the finished sheet music transcription.

This should be relatively simple. I use Sibelius to notate the music score and it allows me to play what is written because it can “read” the manuscript. This can be useful because if your transcription is accurate then it will sound good…except that it sounds as though a robot is playing it (which it is!). Inevitably a human should always sound better as long as they play the right notes but it gives a good idea of how accurate the pitch and rhythm is.

Here is an example of Sibelius “reading” a complex solo jazz piano transcription:

Music Transcribing

Music Transcribing

3. Carefully check the layout of your transcription. I’ve seen music produced by some very talented musicians, which is virtually unreadable. There are many reasons for this but watch out for odd phrase lengths (5 or 7 bars to a line – this may be ok but probably not, especially for a rhythm section), missing bar numbers or rehearsal marks, does the page look cluttered? Is the font large enough? clear enough? Is there actually too much information on the page? Even if you can’t read music make sure you look through carefully to see if it looks clear and tidy. There may be a good reason for an odd looking page turn or layout but if in doubt, ask the arranger.

4. Music Transcription is a labour of love! Music transcription is a laborious, time consuming affair which requires a patience and dedication to detail that not many people possess. Personally, I transcribe music because I love to “get inside” the music and find out exactly what makes it work and exactly how great some musicians are.

Custom music transcription clientsNeed music transcribed for theater, TV, shows or just for fun? Feel free to contact me and ask anything you like. I’ll be happy to help.

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Music Arrangements For Cruise Ships

music arrangements for cruise shipsCruise ship singers and entertainers can often find it difficult to know what makes a good quality arrangement and it may take a great deal of experience and money to learn how to avoid mistakes.

Here’s a few tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of  long rehearsals, wasted money and nervous performances!

Firstly I should point out that personally, I’ve written arrangements for many professional cruise ship vocalists as well as the main shows (and TV show, orchestras and Pop acts) but aside from that I am also a freelance pianist and I get to see a wide variety of musical arrangements and talk to vocalists who regularly play guest spots on cruise ships.
My first 2 jobs out of college were in the cabaret band on cruise ships and I’ve even been a passenger and spoken to other bands and artists.

Tip1. Not all Musicians Are Created Equal.

Your arrangements should sound fantastic played by fantastic musicians but also sound good from bad musicians. I spoke to a singer recently at a gig in London and after the first set he was thanking the band for the way the charts sounded. He told me how he’d recently come back from a cruise ship guest spot and had to give up using the band, it sounded so bad. He moved from the theatre to the lounge and had to use backing tracks instead.
It takes a lot of experience in order to write arrangements that take this into account. You may be a seasoned pro’ with beautiful charts and your regular session guys have no problem playing the intricacies that you’re used to hearing but if the band are not up to the same standard then you may have to pull numbers from your carefully worked out set, even after long, extended rehearsals.

Tip2. Make It Easy To Read!

This may seem like stating the obvious but I come across this issue so often.
Music which is quite simple to play but which is written in such a way as to make it difficult. Even if you don’t read music, does it look neat, clear and can be seen at 3-4 feet away? Even if the answer to these questions is “Yes” there’s detail which can still make the arrangement difficult. An example may be a chord symbol written as “Fb7(#11)” – although this may be technically correct sometimes, a commercial musician will ALWAYS prefer to see “E7(#11) , I guarantee it. Good arrangements are written to be read first time with no rehearsal as opposed to get marks in a college exam.
Something which constantly irritates me is that people write music with 5 or 6 bars to each line, especially with Jazz or pop music. Rhythm sections tend to think in groups of 4 or 8 because that’s how the musical phrases sound. If your arrangements have 4 bars (measures) per line, a rhythm section doesn’t need to think much but if your charts have 5 bars (or 6 or 7….I’ve seen them all), your chances of the bass, drums, pianist or guitarist getting lost have just increased by a massive amount.

Tip3. Bands Come In Different Shapes And Sizes

Cruise ship bands not only differ in their level of competence but also the amount of musicians and instruments within the group.  This can be a real headache for the arranger as well as the vocalist. The band that I started my career with was  a 7 piece, with piano, bass, drums, guitar and sax (doubling clarinet) trumpet and trombone. This is a good size band that can cover most music really well but it’s not that common any more.
I tend to ensure that arrangements can be played well by a trio (piano, bass, drums) and include all the necessary cues of the horn parts. That way it’s all covered.

Tip4. Choose Your Key Carefully

OK, we know the show is all about YOU…..and your voice sounds perfect in B major on this song. By all means use your B major arrangements for bands that you know but for bands that you don’t know or if you have little or no rehearsal, take it from me – Bb major of C major will make everybody’s life a great deal easier!

Tip5. It’s Not All About Style, But……

With musicians, style IS important. A great Jazz player may know 1000s of tunes in any key but may not be able to read simple notation or if you put a page of chord symbols in front of a classical trained pianist and you tend to get silence! Your arrangements (especially for piano) should have enough information on them so that a Classical player can read some notes and so the Jazz player can read some chords.

If you are a singer and have any questions regarding arrangements please do feel free to contact me and ask anything you like, no obligations.

When all your arrangements are in order, the band should look like this:
(My cruise ship band from 20 years ago ….and that’s me in the centre )

cruise ship band

Good luck,

James Treweek
Pianist, arranger, composer

Posted in: arranging, General

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