How to transcribe chord voicings for piano and guitar?

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of christopher-sutton christopher-sutton 4 years ago.

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    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2

    I am taking Jazz Piano lessons at York University and my teacher and I are also doing ear training in my music lesson. My assignment is to transcribe “My Romance” by Ella Fitzgerald and “Barbados” by Charlie Parker. He expects me not to just transcribe the melody, but to know the chord voicings by ear. I am not getting marked on it, but it’s something I would love to do for the rest of my life. I have no experience transcribing chord voicings. It’s something I have never done before. Is there a step-by-step procedure to transcribe it systematically?

    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2

    Hi Chris,
    I think you know the answer to my question about transcribing chord voicings.


    Hi @blanche_minim-2,

    There’s no magic to transcribing chord voicings, so the usual advice on transcription ear training applies.

    There are a few different ways to approach it:

    1. Think in chords. On the guitar different voicings means different fretboard shapes, and you can learn to recognise their different characteristic sounds. On the piano there are too many different possible voicings to recognise each directly but similarly, you can learn to recognise the inversions of each chord and whether it is in “open” or “close” voicing.
    2. Think in intervals. This is a good example of how interval ear training is complementary to chord ear training. Although different voicings of e.g. a Major 7th chord will all sound like a major 7th chord, they all have different constituent intervals. Training your ear to hear the intervals present in a chord will make it much clearer which inversion/voicing you are hearing.
    3. Think in individual notes. Your natural way of hearing music will be in terms of the overall sounds of chords but at the end of the day each is just a collection of notes. To work out the specific voicing of each chord (particularly on piano) it will be necessary to hear each and every note which is present. This can be done via your chord or interval recognition (#1 and #2 above) but it can also simply be done directly: try to hear each note present at any given moment in the music. The best way to do this is by using your voice, trying to sing each note you hear.

    If you are trying to work on a homework assignment right now, then #3 will be the fastest way to approach it. Use a piano or a guitar if you can to play back what you’ve written down and check it against the recording (i.e. check if there are extra notes in one which aren’t in the other?)

    In the longer term I would recommend #1 and #2 which provide shortcuts to improve on the note-by-note approach.

    I hope that helps!

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