How To Transcribe Music On A Piano

Can You Sing Twinkle, Twinkle… Then You Can Transcribe

Transcribing music, or writing out what you hear, can seem like a crazy difficult task, but actually if you can sing a nursery rhyme, then you can write it out, all you need is a keyboard or piano.

How To Transcribe Music
Listen, Think, Wright

The reason you use a keyboard is because it’s easier to see the intervals that way.  Unlike most instruments, the keyboard is laid out one note next to another, so the notes you want and the spaces between them are very easy to see.
So, let’s get started, play the note C as your first note and go ahead, sing it…
“Twinkle, twinkle little star”
“How I wonder where you are”

Direction Of Pitches – How To Transcribe Music

Now, ask yourself, which of these two lines were generally going up, and which one was generally going down?  Telling which direction the pitches, or notes, are moving is important to know in order to write them down.  If your first note is C, then you should be able to tell that that first phrase is the one going up, and the second phrase is the one coming down.

Intervals, How Far Did I Go

This is the second important thing when it comes to transcribing.  You have to learn your intervals to know how far you went.  The first two notes of “Twinkle, Twinkle” is an example of a Perfect 5th, or C to G.  Sing it a few times to yourself.  This is an important interval to learn and is sometimes the first or second interval that most people learn when they’re taking lessons.  When getting more complex, there are generally 12 intervals that one must learn and be able to identify or at least find with the help of their keyboard.  It’s mostly based on knowing which direction to go and knowing if you’ve gone too far or you’ve got some room to go.  Knowing how to do this is based on the two steps mentioned so far.

What Key Am I In?

This is typically the first question asked by musicians, but is a concept a little more difficult to grasp as a beginning music student.  The best way to think about it is, “what scale matches this song?”  If C and G are our first notes, this key or scale is C Major, and I know that from knowing how to play the song.  But what it does is gives me 8 notes to choose from and try to match in a melody, instead of the 12 notes, or semitones, that exist.
So, the C scale gives me: C D E F G A B C
We’ve figured out that the first notes are: C- C- G- G
If you’ve looked at your intervals, and listened to them closely, you’ll hear that the rest of the intervals are seconds, or steps, and all you’ve got left is to figure out which direction you’re supposed to go.
If you’ve completed that, then congratulations, you’ve just transcribed your first song!
It goes: C-C-G-G-A-A-G- – F-F-E-E-D-D-C!!!
See what other nursery rhymes you can do?

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