Transcription of Popular Music

transcription, music, popular music, pop music, pop, sheet music, notes

Although transcription has its origin in the world of classical music, it is used as well in the field of popular music. Especially at a time when the production of music is no longer noted during composing, as in the case of classical music, the need for transcription techniques increases to make music more accessible for fans. The basis for the composition of popular music is often not musical notes, but virtual instruments and samples. In other words, popular music is literally produced, not composed. However, the production, editing and manipulation of the audio material on the computer, often leads to completely new sound patterns. The challenge for the engraving is therefore to find an appropriate representation for these new sound patterns.

Transcription of classical music vs. transcription of popular music

Due to their great acceptance and anchoring in society, traditional music notation is also used to write popular music. However, in this case, the music notation must be partially extended with certain signs and symbols to meet the tonal particularities of popular music. Widely used in the field of popular music is the transcription as a lead sheet, in which the melody is noted in bars and harmonies. However, lead sheets itself often prove to be insufficiently able to adequately represent the sometimes-enormous complexity of popular music. The limitless variety of this genre often results in transcription for different objectives and groups of people, which leads to further diverse degrees of accuracy and derivation from the original.

Diverse ways to transcript popular music

One should differentiate between the simple notations, which are often made for archiving purposes, and transcriptions for playing/learning practice, which are much richer in detail. This contains aspects such as different intonations, timing in the (speaking) vocal range and phonations. In order to represent this enormous acoustic diversity, appropriate notation techniques are required.

The continuum of different notation modes ranges from an x-shaped note head, which only displays a sound (without pitch), to suggested notes with and without a neck (pitch of the portamento), to notes represented in brackets. These merely indicate an almost inaudible tone. For example, the slash notation can be used as a symbol for speech singing in music – based on rhythm notation in jazz. Various transcription modes, such as the slash notation mentioned above, are offered by the notation software Musescore:


Various transcriptions, such as the listed slash notation, offer, for example, the engraving software Musescore




The New Real Book (vol. II, S. i) Ornaments and Symbols
Merrill, J., 2016. Die Sprechstimme der Musik. Composition, notation, transcription. Wiesbaden.