Transcription (music)

:"This article is about music. For other uses, see Transcription disambiguation page"

In music, transcription is the act of notating a piece or a sound which was previously unnotated. The heretofore unnotated piece can be something small or something large. Composers as notable as Paul McCartney do not read or notate music, and it is up to a music transcriber to transfer the musical ideas to a printed form. Cameo Lake Music, "Music Transcription" [] .] This involves interval recognition and harmonic analysis, both for which the transcriber will need relative or perfect pitch to perform. Zechiel Music Transcription, "So You Want to Transcribe Your Own Music" [] .] Transcription has also come to mean arranging a piece of music which was originally written for one instrument or group of instruments so that it may be performed on a different instrument or group of instruments; the latter meaning is almost synonymous with arrangement.


Examples of the former type of transcription include ethnomusicological notation of oral traditions of folk music, such as Béla Bartók's and Ralph Vaughan Williams' collections of the national folk music of Hungary and England respectively.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen transcribed birdsong in the wild, and incorporated it into many of his compositions, for example his "Catalogue d'oiseaux" for solo piano.


In general transcription arrangements play, sometimes ironically, on the characteristic of music that two separate notes can be both "the same" and "different", because a particular note, when played on two different instruments, is both recognizably the same in pitch and yet different in timbre. Thus it is possible to transcribe a piece written for one instrument for another instrument or set of instruments in such a way that the pieces are note for note identical, and thus sound "the same", and yet have a qualitatively different sonority, and thus sound "different" because of the different instruments used.

Because of this, some composers have rendered homage to other composers by creating "identical" versions of the earlier composers' pieces while adding their own creativity through the use of completely new sounds arising from the difference in instrumentation. The most widely known example of this is Ravel's arrangement for orchestra of Mussorgsky's piano piece Pictures at an Exhibition. Webern used his transcription for orchestra of the six-part ricercar from Bach's Musical Offering to analyze the structure of the Bach piece, by using different instruments to play different subordinate motifs of Bach's themes and melodies. In transcription of this form, the new piece can simultaneously imitate the original sounds while recomposing them with all the technical skills of an expert composer in such a way that it seems that the piece was originally written for the new medium. But some transcriptions and arrangements have been done for purely pragmatic or contextual reasons. For example, in Mozart's times, the overtures and songs from his popular operas were transcribed for small wind ensemble simply because such ensembles were common ways of providing popular entertainment in public places. Mozart himself did this in his opera Don Giovanni, transcribing for small wind ensemble several songs from other operas, including one from his own opera The Marriage of Figaro. A more contemporary example is Stravinsky´s transcription for four hands piano of The Rite of Spring, to be used on the ballet's rehearsals. Today musicians who play in cafes or restaurants will sometimes play transcriptions or arrangements of pieces written for a larger group of instruments.

Other examples of this type of transcription include Bach's arrangement of Vivaldi's four-violin concerti for four keyboard instruments and orchestra; Mozart's arrangement of some Bach fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier for string trio; Beethoven's arrangement of his Grosse Fuge, originally written for string quartet, for piano duet, and his arrangement of his violin concerto as a piano concerto; Franz Liszt's piano arrangements of the works of many composers, including the symphonies of Beethoven; Tchaikovsky's arrangement of four Mozart piano pieces into an orchestral suite called "Mozartiana"; Mahler's re-orchestration of Beethoven symphonies; and Schoenberg's arrangement for orchestra of Brahms's piano quintet and Bach's "St. Anne" prelude and fugue for organ.

Since the piano became a popular instrument, a large literature has sprung up of transcriptions and arrangements for piano of works for orchestra or chamber music ensemble. These are sometimes called piano "piano reductions", because the multiplicity of orchestral parts -- in an orchestral piece there may be as many as two dozen separate instrumental parts being played simultaneously -- has to be reduced to what a single pianist (or occasionally two pianists, on one or two pianos, such as the different arrangements for George Gershwin's "A Rhapsody in Blue") can manage to play.

Automatic Transcription

Several attempts have been made at automatic transcription of music, most of which have qualified for someone's Master's or PhD thesis. However, a collection of the tools created by this ongoing research could be of great aid to musicians. In general, musical recordings are sampled at a given recording rate. Common file formats for storing raw sound on computers are 'wav' (Windows) and 'snd' (Unix). Each of these formats represent sound by digitally sampling. Rates of 44100 Hz are common, (this is the equivalent of CD-quality sound).

In order to transcribe music automatically, several problems must be solved:1. Notes must be recognized - this is typically done by changing from the time domain into the frequency domain. This can be accomplished through the Fourier Transform. Computer algorithms for doing so are common in signal processing. The Fast Fourier transform algorithm computes the frequency content of a signal, and is therefore very useful in processing musical excerpts.2. A beat and tempo need to be detected - this is a difficult, many-faceted problem. One attempt is recorded in this scholarly article: [ Simon Dixon Citation]


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