How to Notate|Transcribe a Song (Pop song)?

Transcribing needs a lot of skills. But if you’re a good musician(in theory and practice), I think everything would be easy. Nevertheless, I’ll be teaching you the very basic steps on how to notate/transcribe a song especially a Pop song.

But before anything else, I want you to have these skills first:

1. You should know how to play piano or guitar. Unless you’re perfect pitch, then you don’t need these instruments. These instruments will help you locate the pitches that you hear in the song and then write them down. And by these doing, the next skill is required;

2. You should know how to write music. By that, I mean you are knowledgeable about the basic rudiments in music and how to draw them on the paper: the staff, clefs, music notes, time signature, accidentals, chords, and lastly I would recommend you to know key signature. These are I think the basic concepts you should know before writing down a song.

3. You should have a clean ear. And by saying clean ear I mean it physically and skillfully. Your ears should be clean in any hindrances for it to hear well. And by saying “skillfully”, your ears should know how to listen and compare your heard pitch to your piano or guitar.

4. Rhythm. Combining values of notes in a measure creating whether rhythmic or melodic movements is what rhythm is. Pop music melodies are easier on rhythm because you have another element that guides you to it, the lyrics. You would know how many beats/what kind of note does a syllable have by determining on what beat it falls(time signature).

Now, after knowing these skills you can now begin transcribing.

HERE are my Easy Steps:

Transcribing a song has 2 main parts: the melody and the harmony. If you don’t know harmony, well it’s all the ornamentation and instrumentation done to accompany the melody making it more beautiful to hear. Basic harmony is using basic chords to accompany the melody.

Now, let’s start first part, the melody.

Transcribing the melody is better and faster if you:

1. Listen and notate the melody phrase by phrase.

Composers compose music through phrasing on the melody. You can easily determine phrasing. Like the song “Bridge over troubled water”, the first phrase would be : “when you’re weary” then next would be “feeling small” and so on… Basically, where melodies stops or prolong a little bit is an end to a phrase. Here, phrase by phrase, you do listen-and-find each pitch, then write them down. (Listen=to the song, find= it on the piano/guitar then write them down on a music writing sheet). Once you know the pitches, next would be:

2. Find what part of the time(time signature) a syllable(of a lyric) is placed. Time signature is the time in music where beat serves as the seconds(in real time) and the measure (an enclosure that inside it is a complete time) serves as a minute(in real time). In music we have common time 4,4 which means 4 beats in a measure (time signature are the numbers written after clefs like fractions but not). So there are 4 beats in the time signature 4,4. 1st beat is always the strongest. It always feels like first drop of the measure. 2nd and 3rd are easy to determine because they always come after beat no. 1. 4th beat feels like a jump going to the 1st beat again and beginning the cycle again. It always feels anticipation for the next measure. In Transcribing melody, you need to know what part of the beat does your syllable falls. Example “when you’re weary”, “when you’re” falls on the 4th beat making “weary” the 1st beat on the next measure. Then start counting how many beats/what kind of note these syllables have. Slowly, you can finish your song perfectly. Below is the sample image notation from the above explanations;




Second part, the Harmony

Before any ornamentation, instrumentations, composers write first the basic harmony: the chords. In this article, we are not going to tackle deeply the chord functions but we should to know how to listen and write them down correctly.

1. Listen to the Bass

Most of the time, chords are firstly named by their root note we call the Bass. In the world of Pop music, bass is so essential that it is heard a lot and clearly. Again, using my formula listen-and-find, finding the bass will be easier.

2. Major, Minor, Augmented, or Diminished?

Basic characteristics of a chord are these: Major, minor, augmented, or diminished. Below are the sample sounds of each characteristics.





Basically, major is a happy chord. Minor is a sad chord. Diminished is a super sad chord that it is called sometimes a devil chord. Augmented is more likely a happy chord but too much that it feels like something is overlap.

Also, there are many kinds of chords that Pop songs use like the 7th chords: dominant 7th, major7th, minor7th. 9th chords, 2nd chords, etc.

Major 7th

Minor 7th

3. Chord over Bass

It’s a kind of chord that another bass serves as its new bass. Example: G/A, F/G. instead of writing A7, composers write the 7th as an independent chord but still using A as the bass… the 7th of A is G. So, the new chord is G/A.

Listen as to when the bass changes, then the harmony is also changing. It’s easy to hear the changes in harmony/chords. Most likely, harmony changes always fall in a specific syllable of a lyrics.

What’s the key here overall is a good listening ear, and a keen mind.


Author: Anthony Ellado