Music is an aural tradition. A lot of music history only survived because some people listened to it. Without using our ears music is useless. So what is transcribing music? It is the best way to learn how to improvise in music. Transcribing music is the process of intense listening and repeating. We hear a solo we like so we listen to it and try to get the same sound that the musician on the record is getting. This process is the basis for a lot of things we already know.
Consider a child who is just starting to learn how to talk. He first listens to his parents. He spends a year and a half to 2 years of just listening before he even says a word. Then after that intense listening he starts to try to reproduce the sounds his parents are making. He has no concept yet of what he is really saying. After a few more months he starts to realize that certain words mean certain things, and that they fit in certain situations.
Learning music is the exact same process. Music is a language in itself. You don’t need to spend 2 years listening, but the process of listening closely, repeating, and finally understanding the context is important. The only way you can achieve this is to transcribe music. Once you start transcribing music you will start to learn licks (words) that you can combine together to make musical phrases. When you hear a solo, especially longer solo such as the ones you hear in jazz, the artist is trying to tell a story with his playing. Transcribing music will help you learn the language of music faster, more authentically and over all better.
With the advance of technology transcribing music has become much easier. In the older days you didn’t have MP3 players, internet, YouTube etc. How you transcribed before was ways like listen to the radio and try to pick out as much as you can while it played by, or you would have a record player and if you wanted to replay a section it would make it difficult to find the spot you want. My favorite story about transcribing music before technology was Charlie Parker. His nick name is Yard Bird; this is because of how he learned to play. When he was learning to play he would go sit in a yard bird pin behind a bar and listen to bands play and try to catch as much as he could. He couldn’t rewind, I’m sure this wasn’t the easiest way to learn, but this is the old times. These days there are programs out there that slow music down, and change keys for you. So if you are interested in this read my post on Transcribing Software.
Music is a language, you learn it the same way, and you use it the same way. Transcribing music is the same process a child uses when they learn their first language. They first listen then they try to mimic the sounds of their parents. This is the best way to learn, it makes you sound native, speeds up the process of learning, and helps you hear it. Learning music is getting easier because of technology, so use it for your benefit.