The Big Think

November 15, 2005

Ear Training

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 5:55 pm

In my job I often have to transcribe acapella music. I’ve developed a pretty good ear over the last 15 years and don’t often come across a piece of music that stymies me. When I first started arranging it seemed like every piece had something challenging or unknown in it. Something that I heard and told myself “gee, I have no idea how I’m going to do that”. Each piece was a learning experience. Over the years as I’ve arranged more pieces (I passed 1,000 several years ago) and got more comfortable with the process I stopped getting nervous about what I was going to be handed. Orchestral? sure thing. Rock? Easy. Disney/Show tune? Piece of cake. Country? Yawn. It’s been a long time since I’ve been, for lack of a better word, scared by a tune.

That ended this week. I have had to transcribe a blazingly fast acapella 6-part R&B monster that has had me in fits. I just finished it today and it has taken me a grand total of almost 15 hours to transcribe 79 measures. That works out to just under 9 minutes per measure. By way of comparison I can normally crank out an acapella arrangement in an hour or two. Sometimes much quicker if it’s simple and short. 15 minutes? Not unheard of. But this one has been a monster. This has been the kind of tune that I never thought I’d finish. My ear could only handle 8-12 measures of dense harmonies before it checked out for the day and I had to move on to something simpler.

The end result? I’ve had to simplify a few parts because, well, the original artists aren’t really singing notes- more like vocal approximations. I doubt the group that I’m doing the arrangement for could do it without the simplifications. But it sounds great and I’m very happy with the results. And I’m especially happy to have this one behind me.

Sorry I can’t mention the song. It’s for Sing and there’s always great secrecy around songs and themes. I don’t think any of the group members even know or care that I have a blog, but it’s best to be safe. Barry does read this page, but like me he likes to be surprised by the stuff that he doesn’t arrange.

Fingers crossed… I really hope they can pull it off. It’ll be awesome. If they try and fail? I don’t want to think about it.

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