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Tips for transcribing that helped me

Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
Hello, I’m a full time transcriber and wanted to share these tips on transcribing that helped me when learning. This was authored by Russ Elton (Trivium’s official transcriber) and he helped train me until I was ready to transcribe on my own. I‘ll also answer any questions any of you might have regarding it. I’d figured this would be better as a new thread as it is pretty long.
  1. You need Amazing Slow Downer and/or RiffStation. These apps let you slow songs down w/o affecting pitch, add vocal remover, separate the audio by channel, change pitch to whatever you want [so you don't have to retune your guitar], etc. They are fundamental and will help you a lot.
  2. This may seem obvious but when you're trying to find a note, play along with the note until the two notes blend into each other. Just like when you're tuning your guitar and you hit the 5th fret on low E and open A ... if they aren't matching, you'll hear the in/out sound of the dissonance. Once they're both in tune, you hear it blend into each other perfect. The same will happen when you tab. I wasn't kidding when I said I started out by slowing songs down note for note ... I had them VERY slow so I could do this trick.
  3. If you think you have the riff down but it doesn't sound exactly like the studio when you play it, then you're probably missing something. In the past I would think maybe it's the tone, or maybe another instrument is making it sound different .... but I'd eventually find the mistake and then it would sound perfect. With few exceptions, if what you're playing doesn't sound quite right then it's probably not.
  4. Search for videos of the original guitarist playing the riff/solo. The closer to the date of the studio album the better because even pros will forget or play things a little differently as time goes by. Keep in mind things could be different live due to positioning if the guitarist is also singing or something. AND, some guitarists do multiple takes in the studio so when in doubt, go with the studio if you definitely hear an open string or slide, etc.
  5. Until you get the ability to pick out separate notes in a chord, first try to find the main sound [root] of the chord. If the chord is x54, you should be able to hunt around and hear that x57 sounds pretty good. But then, as I mentioned in point #3, try different chords based on that D note until it sounds perfect. Try x53, x54, x55, x58, etc. Over time you'll be able to hear that higher note and not have to guess as much.
  6. After you've figured a riff out, listen to it again near full speed and follow along with your tab. Sometimes when you listen slow you may miss things that are obvious when they're near full speed. One example for me was in Metallica's "Dyers Eve". There's a part between riffs where, because I had it very slow, I heard 5-6 notes descending in a scale pattern. After speeding it up, it was just a slide down the A string. Usually this trick will help you with positioning though. Something like a 3-4 note pattern that repeats sounds more obvious fast.
  7. It can be harder to distinguish notes as they get pretty low, like the first few frets on a 7-string. Sometimes it helps to change the pitch +5 semi-tones and listen again.
  8. For positioning, listen for things like a note ringing over the next few notes or little shift sounds/slide noises/quick pull-offs, etc. A lot of times that helps lock something in position and then you can work backwards from there (i.e. if this is definitely in the 15th fret position, then previous lick is probably close to that).
 

Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
There are a few things you can do to determine the tuning.

  1. Research ... if a band usually uses some tuning then it's safe to at least start with that assumption.
  2. Listen through the song and see if you can hear any riff that's probably pedaling the low string note. Examples are like for the Ember album w/ Trivium ... those riffs where he hits the low note throughout but throws in single notes from the other strings? Then see what that lowest note is. If it's an E or D .... probably your lowest note in the tuning.
  3. Listen for any arpeggios with open strings, or natural harmonics. Those help but usually only to determine standard/Eb/etc. So Metallica's Cthulu for example, the 2nd riff. The high E/B let you know it's standard [or whatever that album is, I think it's 1/4th off or something].
  4. Other than that just assume the basics first ... your standard, Eb, D, drop D,..... then as you tab if something looks really weird (usually with arpeggios) then you may have a special tuning, like DADGAD or open ... stuff I don't usually come across.
So take Becoming The Dragon from Trivium. I listened to the first half and thought "Okay, it's standard." Started tabbing, then realized in the chorus there was a really low note ..... whoops, guess it's a 7-string. Had I listened to the whole song I may have realized that before starting.

That's probably the best answer I can give. It's possible to write a song in standard D but it's really Drop D if they don't do things that really lend to a drop tuning, like those sixth chords Trivium uses a lot [power chord shape in Drop D tuning]. That's where looking for live vids helps too.
 

Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
Some general things about tabs I've learned over the years:

  1. Some people put a lot of stock in "Official Tab Books". I've read people say that means the band themselves put them out or checked the tabs. While there are some that may be like that, the 'official' just means it's legal. I'm not an expert but I'm pretty sure any internet tab is technically illegal unless you have permission from whoever owns the publishing rights. So those books just mean they have permission. Now, in general, those books are going to be better than your average internet tab just because the author probably does it for a living or has done a LOT of tabs, or has musical theory to plug in gaps if they can't hear something, etc. But, don't think just because it's in a book that it's 100%. Look no further than the Metallica AJFA tab book for Blackened. Loads of mistakes in that one, and most of the other songs if I remember right. Dyer's Eve verse riff is just a-2-2-2-2-2-2, not a-2-3-2-3-2-3.
  2. I used to believe that no tab would be 100% unless the person who actually recorded it approved it, then I met Jordan Baker back in '04. If anyone thinks I'm a good transcriber, then you should see his stuff. To keep it brief, John Petrucci has approved him to write Dream Theater tab books and does not even bother checking anything anymore, he knows it will be 100%. Jordan is also the one that taught me how to write tabs with timing information [instead of the text tabs only] and has helped with MANY of the harder-to-hear sections in my tabs. He spent about one or two days and transcribed all of Marty Friedman's solos from RIP to Youth, complete and with timing. That would have taken me probably a month and with errors. So bottom line, you CAN have a tab that is perfect and it IS possible to hear everything on the album even if you didn't record it.
  3. I read someone mention that line in my official PDFs about 'recording sounds 1/2 step lower than written', in addition to me saying the tuning was a 1/2 step down, and seemed to get confused. That line doesn't mean it's another 1/2 step down, but rather the notes on the musical staff are written as IF the song was in normal tuning. So if you were to take that and have a piano play it, it wouldn't match the recording without shifting the pitch. That's just to keep things simple so you can always call 022000 an E minor chord, instead of having to shift things in your head and say "Oh it's a D minor chord because this is 1 step down".
 

Christian Schulze

Hot Topic Tourer
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Nov 11, 2019
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HOOOO LYYYYY SHIIIIIIT!!!!
@axenguitar ......this is a masterclass of tips right here!!

Thank you so much for all theese wonderful tips!

I also like that you really state...look for videos of the band playing and such! In my purist head as a beginner I frowned at myself for seeing someone play song live for me to learn it.

If professionals look at live footage...all bets are off...

Thank you very much for all of theese tips.

I will save this post!
 
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Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
HOOOO LYYYYY SHIIIIIIT!!!!
@axenguitar ......this is a masterclass of tips right here!!

Thank you so much for all theese wonderful tips!

I also like that you really state...look for videos of the band playing and such! In my purist head as a beginner I frowned at myself for seeing someone play song live for me to learn it.

If professionals look at live footage...all bets are off...

Thank you very much for all of theese tips.

I will save this post!
No problem! Maybe eventually you won't have to look at live videos anymore, I hardly do so nowadays and don't be afraid to look at other tabs either, it helped me a lot in the beginning as well. Also, I didn't write this, the guy that trained me did. :)
 
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Synner Endless Summer Collection

Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
If you want one of the best tempo alter/reprogram pitch programs out there, check out DeCoda by Zplane. Zplane is everywhere and you don't know it - for those who know, they design a ton of the DSP algos used by Universal Audio. Take a look - it's worth the small price.
That program looks great! Never had heard of it before, the only downside is you have to buy it whereas riffstation is free. I bought it anyways and already looks better and you can do more with it it seems.
 
Synner Endless Summer Collection

Axescour

Free Bird Player
Feb 1, 2022
8
31
United States
13
Thanks for the cool info!
Had this thought, so all this time I learned illegal tabs. Why are they there and could I get in trouble?
Pretty sure unless you copied something that’s being sold elsewhere and started sharing it, you can’t get in trouble :). Also, it's up to the publisher whether or not other tabs that aren't theirs for certain songs can be posted on tab-sharing websites.
 
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