Intro to Transcription: Two Day Mini Unit

Intro to Transcription: Two-Day Mini Unit

By Karin Dye

Photo by Weston McKinnon


Spirits were low. We had just gone back to completely remote learning as a high school and my orchestras were NOT feeling it. It was a two day week before we left for Thanksgiving break and I needed to give them something for those two days that wasn't watching more TwoSet videos (I'm sorry, TwoSet we love you!).

Another Quick and Dirty Lesson Plan

1. Give the students access to a pdf of printable music staff paper. I used this one. If students don't have quick access to a printer, instruct them to draw 5 lines across blank paper. If you are lucky enough to be doing this lesson in person, provide your students with music staff paper.

2. I started from a VERY basic place because my students have not done anything like this. I taught them how to draw treble, alto, and bass clef. I explained the clef nicknames (treble=G clef, alto=C clef, bass=F clef). They had a ton of fun just drawing the clefs. You may consider showing them this graphic. 

Photo by West Music

3. Next we talked about drawing quarter notes and stem direction. 

4. I used the song Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard. This tune is great for a first time transcribing because it is mostly quarter notes, mostly stepwise motion, and in C Major. Easy stuff. 

5. Play the first measure or so. Play it back to them on the piano. Ask them to see if they can figure out the first note (I recommend having the students have their instruments out). Once they find C, you're off to the races. They should be able to get to this point pretty easily, just take them through it note by note. I used a white board while teaching them, but I wish I had used a document camera. Maybe I'll have to order one for my next transcription lesson, huh?

6. Walk them through the next phrase. This will be harder--it introduces a larger jump and eighth notes. Ask questions to get them there. 

7. After that, you have the option to take them through the basic third harmonies. Make it whatever you want it!


Why do this?

I did this with two non-auditioned groups I teach. They are a great group of students but maybe not always the best practicers. I incorrectly assumed that this meant they did not have much interest in music theory, transcription, etc. I was so wrong. I even had students reaching out saying, "thank you for teaching this...I've always wanted to learn!" Do this with your students! Covid or no Covid. It will light a fresh fire in them.