The art of transcription…

Transcribing music is hard. Much harder than you’d imagine, if you’re trying to get it ‘right’.

TAB taken from the internet is, always, as you’d imagine, total shite. Without exception. It’s a limitation of the form – TAB just doesn’t contain most of the information needed to read a piece of music properly. It can show you roughly where on the fingerboard you can put your fingers to get sounds similar to the ones on a CD, but unless you’ve also got the CD and good enough ears to correct the handiwork of some inbred 12 year old from the mountains of Montana, y’all aren’t going to get very close to sounding like the record, and what’s worse, you’re screwed should anyone ask to play along and want some clues as to the key, the notes involved or any other actual musical information about it.

Sadly books often aren’t that much better. I’ve got a Jaco Pastorius transcription book. It’s rubbish. Total balls. lots of it isn’t even close. A student of mine brought round a Muse transcription book today. more nonsense. The notes were roughly right, but the TAB given for the tune we were doing (Hysteria) was utter nonsense, and would result in it sounding not much like the original, if you care about the feel of the tune. It only took me 30 seconds to confirm via YouTube that the bassist from Muse did indeed play this the way I thought he did and not the way it’s tabbed in the book.

And all over the country kids are parting with their hard earned pocket money for this crap.

See, the problem is that even if you get the notes right, there’s an easy way to write most things and a hard way – another student of mine has got a couple of transcription books of Jamiroquai stuff. There don’t seem to be many actual ‘inaccuracies’ in the book – a few minor discrepancies, but nothing beyond a reasonable margin of error. However, the way the stuff is written out is way way way more complex than it has to be. Staccato quavers written as alternate semi-quaver notes and rests rather than staccato dots being added to the notes. Rhythmic groupings within syncopated bars that make it tricky to read. Too much nonsense generated by Sibelius or whatever score-writing package is being used.

Look, if you’re doing transcriptions, the art is to make it so that the reader can read the music, not just to be ‘right’ but to be ‘good’. It’s all well and good telling me that ‘that’s what he played’ but is it what he intended, is it how he thought about it. those semi-quaver rests aren’t rests at all, they’re just the gaps between staccato notes. A very different thing, and the quavers are MUCH easier to read and understand, and make it easier to see what kind of groove it is at a glance.

It’s possible to over-transcribe too. when I was doing my transcription of Portrait Of Tracey for Total Guitar Magazine, I used a few different ones as source material. The one in the aforementioned Jaco book was nonsense, of course. The one in Bass Player magazine was so ‘right’ that is was impossible to interpret – bars of 11/4 and 13/8 where all that was happening was a ‘gap’ between the phrases. Was Jaco counting 11 beats, or whatever? Doesn’t sound like it to me. So put in one of those little hat things that mean ‘pause’ over the last note, and let people ‘feel’ the space and get on with actually playing music.

Transcribing should be totally accurate, but not pedantic. It’s a hard line to tread, and one where you have to keep in mind what is going to lead to the reader getting to the music accurately and painlessly? That’s why Sibelius or whatever is only ever as good as the person using it. It always needs correcting away from whatever it defaults to.

As a rule, Bass Player Magazine has the best transcriptions – they’re always worth a look, occasional attacks of gruesome pedantry notwithstanding. The ones in ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Motown’ are great too. fab stuff. Watch out for the dodgy ones, they’ll take you longer to suss out the lines on than it would to work it out from the CD…

Rock Stars losing the plot part 1

So Dave Mustaine from Megadeth is suing Dave Ellefson, formerly of Megadeth for mentioning that he was ever in Megadeth – huh?

So, let me get this straight, Mr E, who was in the band for a couple of decades, and is known as the dude from Megadeth, is not allowed to mention or have it mentioned that he was ever in the band????

What a dickhead Mustaine must be. I’d heard he’d converted to Christianity at some point – certainly some of their later lyrics would suggest that – but it clearly didn’t stop him behaving like a pillock. Why do people get caught up in this bollocks? If only he could see that as far as brand recognition goes, having the name of your band associated with ex-members in a situation where they are being celebrated for what they do (in this case, in an ad in Bass Player magazine) is good for business (and business is good).

All in all, this definitely looks like El Mustaine being twat again. His nuts behaviour and egomania are the stuff of Spinal Tapesque legend in the music world, and this just goes to add fuel to the forest fire that is his reputation for nobbishness.

In the news…

Just been sent a scan of a nice piccie of michael manring and I in the news pages of bass player magazine’s april issue – I’ll have to go buy a copy as soon as I can find one, but for now… thanks to Steve Barr for the scan

Soundtrack – right now, is the version of Highway 1 with Patrick Wood that is up on the MP3s page, if you want to join me…

And if you’re in London, do check out the new gig date added for this Sunday!

ah, yet more reviews and accolades! :o)

…did I mention that there’s a rather nice review of ‘Not Dancing…’ in the ‘Bass Player Recommends’ section of this month’s Bass Player magazine? well, I have now – and it’s rather good. I’ll get it typed up soon, and add it to the site…

I’ve also just added another review to the archive, this time from Aural Innovations – ostensibly a space rock site, but it’s a bit broader than that, with some very interesting stuff on it. And I also made it into their end of year best of list – don’t believe me? see for yourself!

I’ve just posted all this info to the ‘news’ page as well – why have I still got this and the news page? er, good question – I guess some people wouldn’t want to wade through all the crap that I write on here just to get the 2% of what I write that actually relates to music (weird though such a thought may seem to you and I), so it’s worth having a more coherent news bit I guess… All those stats on how people engage with websites and how long they stay on them and what leads them to delve deeper etc. are very scary – have I got it all wrong? are they running away in droves, wondering what on earth a ‘blog’ is… do I need a flash intro? Is that really irritating pop-up that invites you to join the mailing list a waste of space, even though my mailing list is growing three times as fast since I added it? all important questions methinks…

anyway, a few hours ago I was planning to do some house work. Then I got sidetracked by… er, well nothing to be honest. Just sitting around, reading articles from www.axisofjustice.org and talkbass.com.

So anyway, on with the tidying – what shall I listen to? er, how about… ah, here we go – ‘Jordan The Comeback’ by Prefab Sprout… excellent.

California III – this time it's serious

…or maybe not…

So anyway, 26th was the Echoplex Clinic at Bananas At Large in San Raphael, just north of San Francisco. Nice town, great shop. The clinic went really well, and I stole loads of ideas from Andre LaFosse’s tips on using the Echoplex – if you’re interested in the EDP at all, you HAVE to check out his site with the Echoplex tips page on it, and all his MP3s…

Anyway, the curry after the clinic was lovely, Scott Drengsen (solo bassist from the Bay Area) came along to the clinic, which was great, and Dan and I stayed with Anderson and Laura – very good friends who live in San Raphael. A lovely time was had by all!

Couple of days off spent with Billy-Bob and Mavis which was lovely, then onto the dates with Michael Manring along with the trio – the first of which was at Henflings in Ben Lomond (sounds Scottish, actually just outside Santa Cruz) – great venue, good turn out, lots of very cool music, and a bizarre moment when Rick Walker jumped on stage to join in with Michael Manring’s set…

the Next day we were up in Sacramento (this was a mucho-driving tour). Started out with a radio interview that Michael and I did for KVMR – very very cool station, we did a duo piece and then Michael did Red Right Returning (as featured, uncredited on the new Royksopp CD).

The gig was great – loads of people there, lots of CD sales, the line up was Michael and I (solo and duo) and Orbis (Mike Roe, Mark Harmon and Nick Willow). What a fun evening. It was also the venue owner’s birthday, and his name turned out to be Tim Looper – what a fine coincidence… :o)

Couple more days off, spent in Sacramento, then the gig at the Little Fox Theatre, with Michael and David Friesen. The three of us works really well as a show, so that was very cool. Lots of good people there, etc. etc.

The next show was probably the low-light of the tour – Cafe Du Nord, nice venue in San Francisco, had been looking forward to this. Got there, and noticed in the local paper that it was billed as a singer/songwriter night, with David Friesen and I listed as acoustic singer/songwriters! Huh? Turns out it was double booked, the guy who organised the acoustic night got really annoyed about it all, tried the cancel the night, it ended up with David and I playing truncated sets, and then the acoustic thing happening afterwards. All a bit miserable and a bit of a let down… Oh well.

Stayed in a motel 6 that night, then off to Santa Barbara – very nice town, had a wander round the farmer’s market. Clinic at Instrumental Music (is this beginning to read like bullet points???), which was great fun – the store manager is a friend from last year, Jamie Faletti, so it was great to see him, lots of great questions at the clinic, loads of CDs sold, all good fun.

Next night was another clinic at another branch of instrumental music, great turnout, the whole thing was videoed (bits of it may turn up here, who knows), some cool people there, nice curry afterwards with Jeff Kaiser (avante-garde composer and trumpeter), and some people from the shop. All good fun, good people, good food, good music. yadda yadda…

Ploughing on through busy schedule, the next day, I gave a masterclass at The College Of The Canyons, normally taught by fantastic solo bassist and jazz educator, Todd Johnson. Nice to hear from Todd afterwards that I’d just confirmed all he’d been telling them for weeks :o)

The second low-light of the tour was to follow – clinic at Jim’s music in Irvine – the shop hadn’t even put up a flyer in the shop for it, no promo, no-one knew, ergo very small number of people there. Bit of a waste of time, travelling 6000 miles to play in a shop that couldn’t care less if you were there or not. Still, kick the dust from your shoes and move on. etc.

The following night in Valencia more than made up for the Irvine balls-up. Great gig at Java and Jazz. Loads of people there, including lots of lovely Level 42 fans from the web digest. Todd Johnson, who organised the gig, played a fantastic solo set, then I did my thing, followed by some fun little jazzy duets.

The tour finished off with a nice little clinic thingie for Churchbassists in San Dimas…

All in all, a lot of fun. Well worth doing, loads of good gigs, tonnes of CDs sold, lots of good press (there’s a review of Not Dancing in the current issue of Bass Player magazine, and the loop trio gig in Santa Cruz made it onto the cover of the Santa Cruz newspaper…)

Hopefully I’ll be back in the US before long…