Music Transcription 1 – Materials and Planning

Transcribing music is probably the most important exercise one can do to understand and perform any style of music. Although this may sound obvious to many jazz musicians, it took me a long time to realize the positive effects of transcribing during my early years as a music student.

Here in Brazil, there’s a very strong DIY culture among musicians about practicing, mainly because our schools and universities couldn’t follow up with music advancements properly for a long time. So when we start to get more independent about our instruments, it’s kind of a mess. One finds a record on the Internet, the other one finds a cool book about harmony, but no one really tells you: “Oh, this is what you should be listening to/working on”. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to hang with the best musicians around.

In my case, learning music has always been a very slow process. Mainly because I was never focused enough when listening to music. I have listened to a lot of music, but the only things I could think about it were through an emotional level, and not technical. So I’ve spent many years studying music theory in books and practicing those scales on my instrument, but never really mixing those experiences with the music I was used to listen to.

When people around me started to talk about transcription, I’ve realized there was something really important missing in my daily practice. But still, I knew what was transcription, but I had no idea how to do it. It took me some time to make it a habit.

So if  you have the same problems as I used to, these tips about transcribing might be useful:

  1. Transcribe everything you can: melodies, chord voicings and rhythms, solos;
  2. If you’re doing your first transcriptions, choose something simple to start with. For example: gospel, dixieland, rhythm n’ blues;
  3. Prefer slow tempos. They’re easier to listen to, and you can probably find more complex and interesting things more easily than in fast tempo tunes;
  4. Show your transcriptions to the best musicians you know, they should help you figure out if there’s something wrong;
  5. Get used to preparing “lead sheets” of everything you listen to: melodies and chord symbols.
  6. All you need is your own instrument (I would recommend also any harmonic instrument, such as a piano or guitar) and your headphones or speakers.
  7. Sometimes when the recording is old and/or damaged, you might have to deal with some tuning problems. If you’re using your guitar, just tune it accordingly. Due to this problem, it may be hard to know exactly what’s the key being played. In this case, look for other recordings of the same tune. Also, if you found the key to be, for example, B major, it’s quite likely that you’re wrong, because this is a very rare key for jazz tunes. Here’s a list of the most common keys in jazz tunes:
    • Major: F, Bb, Eb, C, G, Ab, Db;
    • Minor: Fm, Dm, Cm, Gm, Am, Ebm, Bbm, Em.
  8. Try to find out how the tune begins. In approximately 80% of the tunes there’s an introduction before the melody. And the introductions are usually 4 or 8 bars long.
  9. Figure out the tune’s structure and form. Count the number of measures while the melody is being played. 32 bars AABA is a very common thing you’ll end up writing. This structure will very often be repeated throughout the solos until the recapitulation. Just watch out with interludes and codas, they usually change things a bit.
  10. Everything repeats in jazz. If you’re having trouble to figure out the chords of an A section in a AABA tune, just wait until the next A shows up and you can try to figure it out again without pausing your player. If you lost a note or two in the melody of B, just keep listening and taking notes, and soon the recap will show you everything you need.
  11. Make sure you have a proper software to slow down your audio file. It is very common to get stuck in passages where you can’t really figure out what’s being played because it’s too quick or blurry. I would definitely recommend RiffMaster Pro for that. It slows down the audio without sacrificing quality, which happens very often with these kind of softwares.


Now you’re ready to start transcribing for real. In the next posts I’ll talk about the process to transcribe melodies, chords and solos.

Thanks for passing by and see you next time!



Kind of Blue – Chorus’ Structure

Most part of jazz choruses have a very defined and simple structure, and usually fit in one of the following categories:

  1. 8-bar chorus: quite rare, the shortest you can find, usually just a short form of blues. Examples
  2. 12-bar chorus: basically the blues, very current harmonic structure. Miles Davis’ “Solar” is one of the rare examples of a 12-bar chorus that is not a blues!
  3. 16-bar chorus: relatively frequent. In the beginnings of jazz, most tunes had a 16-bar chorus: ragtimes (Maple Leaf Rag) or spirituals (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot). One can decompose them according to their melodies in two 8-bar phrases as well as in four 4-bar phrases. One can find tunes with additional 2 bars, such as “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”. Rather than assuming there is a 18-bar chorus category, it is quite more often to understand these cases as 16-bar structures with 2 bars added in the end. Here are some examples of 16-bar tunes.
  4. 32-bar chorus: the most current structure, generalized during the 20’s. The chorus is decomposed in four very clear 8-bar phrases, and one can recognize some different forms:
    1.  32-bar AABA: the most frequent form, in which the 1st, 2nd and 4th phrases are identical and are called “A”. Only the 3rd phrase is different and is called “B” or “Bridge”. Examples.
    2. 32-bar ABA’C: also very frequent, in which there’s no Bridge. The 2nd phrase is different from the 1st, and the 3rd starts like the 1st but ends differently to present a new different 4th phrase, called “C”. Examples.
    3. 32-bar ABAB’ examples.
    4. 32-bar ABCD: not very common due to the amount of new material it demands for every 8 bars, especially for those composers so used to the AABA form. In this form, each phrase is different from the previous ones. Examples.
  5. 64-bar chorus: decomposed in four 16-bar phrases. Its commons forms are exactly like those from 32-bar chorus, but twice longer. Cole Porter composed many tunes with 64-bar chorus structure. Here are some examples.

Analysis: Kind of Blue (1959) – Miles Davis

The best-selling jazz record of all time is – naturally – a classic. Kind of Blue is usually the first choice if you would like to listen to a jazz album, and we’re not exceptions to that!

Miles Davis’ sextet is an all-star band that deserves a lot of focused listening:

This time, we’re gonna try to figure out the structure of each tune’s chorus. Of course, you can use your knowledge from my previous posts to analyze the tunes! Check out the links, turn on your stereo and let’s listen! You’ll get the answers just below the documentary, an extra for you to enjoy Miles Davis’ masterpiece in detail.



  1. So What (Miles Davis): 32-bar AABA
  2. Freddie Freeloader (Miles Davis): 12-bar Blues
  3. Blue in Green (Miles Davis / Bill Evans): 10-bar (a unique one!)
  4. All Blues (Miles Davis): 24-bar Blues (basically a 12-bar doubled!)
  5. Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis / Bill Evans): 24-bar modal tune (we’ll talk about it the upcoming posts!)

Hope you’ve enjoyed, this album is one my favourites and certainly THE FAVOURITE ONE for many! Feel free to ask questions, make some comments or give some suggestions! Hope to see you all next week!

A Journey to Interstellar Space

Here’s a great post from Good Music Speaks blog about John Coltrane!
If you don’t know Coltrane, I would recommend to listen his previous work with Miles Davis and other albums cited in the article before digging into “Interstellar Space”. But it’s up to you! It will be a great journey no matter how much music you’ve listened to!


Ella and Louis – Unfolding of Tunes

Hello everyone, this week I’m gonna start the first series of articles of this blog. It is called “Jazz Recordings Analysis”, and all of its articles are based on Philippe Baudoin’s book called “Jazz – Mode D’Emploi”. Every article in this series will feature one analysis of a jazz recording, each following a different concept cited in Baudoin’s work.

The idea of making a record analysis came from my own struggle to understand jazz repertoire in a deeper way than just listening to a tune a couple of times, reading its melody and chords in a ‘real book’ and playing it around with no good reference. But how can I make that happen without sacrificing my sacred practice or work daily hours? Apparently Baudoin’s book is there to help me and whoever has the same problems. I guess this also applies to a big crowd out there who doesn’t know where to start when facing the endless materials in the path to know and understand jazz repertoire. 

Anyway, this is for those who ‘love’, ‘just like’, ‘would like to know better’, ‘is interested in’, ‘why not’: JAZZ

So let’s begin!

Unfolding of Tunes

Jazz tunes can be either vocal or instrumental and they must have at least one chorus (or refrain). So here’s what you might find on your way:

verse: usually containing less bars than the chorus (8 or 16), they are generally executed in vocal versions. Although a bit forgotten by the instrumental repertoire, they are sometimes quite rich in both melodic and harmonic perspective. It is not rare to listen to a performer to sing it ad libitum (tempo free), but it is very likely that it will serve as an introduction to the song. You can usually separate it from the main chorus by the entrance of the rhythm section (drums, bass and piano). Here are some examples of songs with a verse for you to listen:

List of jazz tunes with verse

– a main chorus or refrain: the main part of the song, that holds its main melody. It is also the part which jazzmen will improvise over, usually after the first exposition.

Analysis: Ella and Louie

This is a classic. A great start for those who have never listened to a whole jazz album, and a great reference for those more experienced.

Before pressing play, it’s cool to check out some basic info:

Ella and Louie was released in 1956, the first of three that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong would record together at Verve Records. The killer band playing on this:

Everyone involved in this album is a jazz legend, so don’t waste time not looking up what each one has done in their careers. We are about to listen a fantastic group, folks.

So, while listening to this record, today we’re just gonna focus on trying to figure out if there’s a verse and identify the chorus. Yep, easy as that! The most important thing is that you take the time to really listen to the whole record. It doesn’t need to be all at once. Sometimes it can be a very hard challenge to stay focused for a complete hour. If you catch yourself distracted, thinking about something else, there’s no need to feel guilty, just bring your concentration back to the music, no need to rewind any song. The only thing I suggest you now is that, after one song is over, write down on a piece of paper if there’s a verse and when the chorus starts (what are the first words of the chorus?). After listening to the whole album, check my notes below and see if you got it right.


Here’s the spoiler:

  1. Can’t We Be Friends? (Paul James / Kay Swift) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  2. Isn’t This a Lovely Day? (Irving Berlin) – 1 Verse (Ella), 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  3. Moonlight In Vermont (John Blackburn / Karl Suessdorf) – No verse, 2 chorus (Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  4. They Can’t Take That Away From Me (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  5. Under a Blanket of Blue (Jerry Livingston / Al J. Neiburg / Marty Symes) – No verse, 3 chorus (Louie – Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  6. Tenderly (Walter Gross / Jack Lawrence) – No verse, 3 chorus and 1/2 (Trumpet – Ella – Louie – 1/2 Trumpet)
  7. A Foggy Day (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) – 1 verse (Louie), 3 chorus (Louie – Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  8. Stars Fell on Alabama (Mitchell Parish / Frank Perkins) – No verse, 1 chorus and 1/2 (Ella – 1/2 Louie)
  9. Cheek to Cheek (Irving Berlin) – No verse, 2 chorus and 1/2 (Louie – Ella – 1/2 Louie and Ella)
  10. The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael / Ned Washington) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella)
  11. April in Paris (Vernon Duke / E. Y. “Yip” Harburg) – No verse, 3 chorus and 1/2 (Ella – Louie – Trumpet – 1/2 Ella)

Next week we’re gonna talk about the chorus form, and appreciate another jazz classic.

Please let me know what did you think about this listening experience and my post by leaving a comment below. I’ll gladly answer back as soon as possible. I’ll be eagerly waiting for your comments, questions and suggestions. Also, if you’re dying to have more info and can’t wait a week for the next post, check out my Contact page for some extra options.

See you next week!