My Simple 5 Step Process To Transcribe Songs

How to transcribe songs in 5 steps

I will show you the whole process that I am using to transcribe songs, but you should start small and transcribe only short melodies first.

Warning: If you have NEVER transcribed songs before AT ALL, this will feel super overwhelming.

The most important thing right away:

PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE will get you to the finish line.

Whenever I am auditioning for a band that I want to join, I rarely find tablature files on the internet, because usually the band is too small yet for a stranger to go and create the notes.

I had to transcribe songs of quite established bands because the songs themselves were not so popular but we played them with some band, for example:

Sentenced – No Tomorrow, Desert By Night and Routasydän.

Or

Deep Purple – Silver Tongue

By the way you can find them here on Ultimate Guitar

The good news is that transcribing a song and using the process that I show you here will help you learn the song much faster than just staring at a tablature sheet that is running through Guitar Pro and you trying to keep up.

1. Listen to the song before you transcribe

Listen to the song many times.

And don’t just listen passively.  

Focus and pay attention to everything that is happening.

Ask yourself: What song part am I currently in? Verse? Chorus? Something else?

2. Write down the song structure

I always do this by handwriting:

Write down the structure of the song.

That means, get clear about the order of the song parts.

I would also add time stamps.

They will come in very handy at the next step.

This is what a typical sheet looks like when I create it:

You see the timestamps on the left, then the song part and next:

3. Chords

Now you go through your song bit by bit and figure out the harmonies and chord progressions.

You will end up playing rhythm guitar most of the time anyway and if you are playing solos you must also be aware of the chord that you are currently playing over.

For this step it is crucial to use headphones instead of speakers.

With headphones you can pick up on small and important details that would get lost when you listen over speakers.

Use a program like Audacity to isolate song parts and listen to them on repeat and maybe even to slow them down.

In Audacity you have those features, all you must do is mark the part that you are currently working on and hit the spacebar.

Pro-tip: If you hold the SHIFT key while pressing space, your selection plays on auto loop.

If you want to slow down a song part, use the Change Tempo Effect, NOT the change speed effect.

Changing the speed will affect the pitch and slowing down a part of a song will make it sound lower.

And now just try to fill in the blanks, use your guitar and your voice to find the right chords.

This will take a while.

The good news is:

A lot of chord progressions in the song parts keep repeating themselves throughout the song and show up again later.

That is why in my transcription you see those empty spaces the closer you get to the bottom.

That work is already done and if you can spot that you are saving yourself a whole lot of work.

If you are not sure that you heard a chord progression before, you can now use the time stamps to quickly jump back and forth song parts and compare.

4. Melodies and solos

I have gotten to a point where I mostly don’t need to write down melodies anymore, a simple “pointer note” or reminder is enough.

But sometimes solos are quite complex and to make it easier to practice them, without having the recording on, it’s handy to have the notes written down somewhere.

If you want to transcribe the full song or just excerpts of melodies so that you have them in front of you, try using Guitar Pro* for that!

5. Rehearse, test and improve.

As soon as you can play the song “kinda” along to the recording, start challenging yourself to play the song without looking at your notes.

You should do this as early as possible and don’t push this off until you think you have practiced more.

This will uncover all little weaknesses and inaccuracies that you have to fix up.

If you want to get better with your technique fast, check this out:

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