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Hey guys, thanks for all the feedback on my transcription post. Here’s my response to the points brought up in the comments.
I think you all understood my main point: transcribing is only a bad deal because it tends to make us think that the notes on the page are the main thing we need to understand in order to play like the pros. It seems like all of you are on board with me there, so if we can keep in mind that there is more to learning this instrument than simply writing down what others have played, then everything will be fine.
In other words, I agree with all of the comments regarding the helpful aspects of transcription – as long as one constantly keeps in mind that music is about FEELING and EMOTIONAL IMPACT. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The essence, the bedrock foundation of music is that it moves people. Music has a tangible and physical impact on listeners, and the experience is profoundly emotional at the same time. The intellectual aspect of music (the part where you analyze and map out what someone is playing) really has nothing to do with music itself. It is merely a way to understand the physical and emotional experience that music brings. Now, of course understanding what you’re experiencing can be helpful in many ways, but I don’t think it changes the experience itself. That’s why critics, professionals, and “music civilians” alike will all respond similarly to a powerful piece of music.
This is obviously all just a theory of mine, based on observations… and I haven’t completely thought it through yet. But it’s really helping me to remember the reason why I do what I do. At the end of the day, when all the exercises/listening/evaluation/analysis/criticism is said and done, I really just want music to MOVE me, and moving others is what I want the music I make to accomplish.
So again, this is where I part ways with the transcription junkies. I almost never find the experience of music to be enhanced by writing out what I’ve heard. Sometimes transcription will help me replicate what I’ve heard, but most of the time it just takes my mind off the real issue by forcing me to focus on the “what just happened” question instead of the “how did that make me feel” question. That might sound overly artsy, but it’s the best explanation I can come up with for what I’ve been learning lately.
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.