I’ve never been the kind of guy who spends a lot of time transcribing the playing of drummers I admire.  Transcription is a big part of instrumental study for many people, but that’s not the case for me, and there’s a very direct and specific reason: Dave King, my former teacher, didn’t like transcription.  That’s all it is.

But it wasn’t Dave’s dislike for transcription that really affected me, it was the reason for his dislike.  Dave accurately identified music as having a primarily emotional existence, and he always emphasized this over anything else in our lessons.  That emphasis often took the lesson content down long, spiraling, and very  “artsy-fartsy” paths, but I always learned a TON.  As I have continued past my lessons with him to teach lessons of my own, I always try to continue the emphasis on the artistic side of things, although I think I probably use less abstract terminology.

Now back to transcription.  Because of Dave’s heavy attention toward emotional/artistic merit, he felt that the mechanical/technical nature of transcribing was misleading.  In other words, simply writing down someone’s playing note for note won’t necessarily give any insight on why their playing feels the way it feels and has the impact that it has.  In fact, transcribing will probably create more problems than solutions if one supposes that transcribing alone is the only necessary component to learning to play like the greats.  Tone, context, time-feel, precision… all of these factors affect the emotional and artistic impact of what you play as heavily as the note-for-note analysis, if not heavier.

My point is this: music has a few different levels of existence.  You can’t fully grasp/understand/appreciate what someone plays merely by copying what they do note-for-note.  The true essence of music is waaaaaay deeper than that.