For guitar players, one of the biggest things to learn is how to listen. This becomes transcribing, where one listens, then either plays or writes down what is heard. Transcribing is can be very difficult, as there is only ONE way to learn it. Practice, practice, practice, then put some REAL time into it… Fortunately, there is an EXCELLENT program out there to help with transcribing, and that product is Transcribe!
*Aside – I do not work for Seventhstring, nor do I receive anything for writing about this program. I just consider it a great tool for myself*
Also, Transcribe! has another great use, other than for it’s intended duties. It makes a great way to practice with backing tracks. Here’s why…
Three things that are absolutely critical to transcribing are tuning, tempo, and length.
Getting one’s guitar to sound the same pitch as what’s on a track can be maddening. In the old days you had one of two choices, change the tuning on your guitar or adjust the pitch of the playback by changing the speed of playback with the tape player, record player, or with certain kinds of CD players. Unfortunately, while changing the speed DID change the pitch, it also change the tempo of the song. Enter computers (or dedicated pitch shifter effects). Instead of pitch shifting the guitar to get the sound right (it feels really weird when playing), someone got the great idea to pitch shift the track. This works very well, but it does make for a little bit odd sound, as EVERYTHING is pitch shifted.
Tempo is the next important aspect of transcribing. Pro’s can play at frightening speeds and make it look incredibly easy (that’s why they are PRO’S!). For us mere mortals to figure out some music, we must slow the track down. This makes it easier to pick out the notes. Again, in the old days, slowing the playback down changed the pitch. Most tape players had a 1/2 speed switch. This would play back the track an octave lower at 1/2 speed. Computers allow for changing the speed of playback and auto adjusting the pitch shifting, so that the playback just sounds slower, but at the same pitch. Now you can slow playback down to any percentage, and the pitches will sound the same as before.
Finally, length. To transcribe intricate parts, one needs to be able to loop over a section or snippet of a song. Trying to do that with a tape was an excercise in tape breaking. Some CD players had an A/B function that allowed you to set a start-end repeating section. Computer programs allow you to select a section of the song down to the waveform level. Plus, digital playback never wears out.
All of these items together allow for great practice. You can select a section of song to repeat, so you can practice just one riff over and over again. If the track is too fast, you can slow it down. Finally, you don’t have to change the tuning of the guitar if the original recording is a little ‘off’.