piano transcriptions

The piano is perhaps one of the most well-known instruments that lends itself to transcription, as it’s been a staple for many composers over the years. Whether you’re looking to take some inspiration from a classical piece of music or some jazz from a great pianist such as Thelonious Monk or Bill Evans, piano transcription is something that is very much part of the process of composing and learning any style of music.

The most important thing when it comes to piano transcription is to not go in with an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. This is often what happens to musicians who’ve never done it before; they think, “I want to transcribe this entire solo from John Coltrane on Giant Steps or this whole song from Hiatus Kaiyote!” In reality, taking on something that large at the beginning will only lead to frustration and a desire to give up on the project.


Instead, start with a single melodic phrase and see where it wants to take you. It’s likely that this will be your chorus, which is usually the most catchy part of the song and what most people hear when they listen to it. This melody will also be the basis for everything that follows, as it’s what you will be improvising on top of throughout the rest of your composition.

Are there specific genres that lend themselves well to piano transcriptions

Once you have the melody down, transcribe it by listening to the chord voicings that are used and then deciphering which notes make up the harmony. This can be difficult at first, but it’s helpful to remember that music is all about context; if you just look at the notes individually and don’t listen to the whole arc of the piece it’s actually more difficult to understand how the harmony functions.

It’s also a good idea to review the key signatures beforehand, as this can help you to decipher the harmonies of a song more quickly and easily. This is because you’ll know what type of chord it’s most likely to be, which can help you to identify the root note (the lowest note in the chord) and the scale that it will be in, making it easier to figure out what key the piece is in.

Another thing that can really help with transcribing is to use a high-quality recording. It will sound a lot better than a low-quality mp3 and make it far easier to pick out the different intervals of each note.

Once you have the individual pieces of the song that you’re looking to transcribe, you can play them on an instrument (or sing them) and then write down what notes you can hear. You can then either mark the individual notes with pen and paper or use a software program such as Finale or Sibelius to do the work for you. In time, you’ll find that this technique will naturally start to filter into your own playing, as you’ll be able to recognize the same harmonic progressions in other songs and learn them more easily.