Transcribing Solos

Transcribing is a key element in learning the language of jazz improvisation. Through
transcription you will be able to become familiar with the improvisational style of key
and influential jazz soloists by focusing on their individually unique note choices and
inflections. Additionally, you will also learn the key building blocks of the jazz language,
learn the key and important components of popular solos by key and influential jazz
soloists, build a foundation for your own style of jazz improvisation, mathematically
formulate note to chord relationships as it relates to jazz theory.
1. Find a solo that you are able to play at your skill level.
a. Don’t attempt a solo that is too difficult
b. Choose a solo that is comprised of whole, half, quarter and eighth notes at a moderate
2. Sing and internalize the solo.
a. You can’t play what you can’t hear.
b. If you have memorized the solo by way of singing it, then it will be much easier to
apply to your instrument.
c. After you have memorized your chosen solo by singing, internalize it on your
instrument or by writing it down note for note.
II. INTERVALIC RELATIONSHIPS – Treat your chosen solo like an etude
1. Focus on the difficult sections.
a. Practice the difficult sections at a slower tempo.
b. Recognize and internalize all intervalic relationships.
c. Put a concentrated focus on the “unorthodox” intervals; ex. whole tones, tri-tones,
augmented fifths, major and minor sevenths
1. Jazz Theory is based on Western European Classical music theories. In jazz
improvisation and composition, we use notes that fall outside of these Western European
Classical music theories. The notes cited above in item II-1c. as unorthodox intervals are
recognized in jazz by a unique nomenclature.
For example; b5 (flat five) or #11 (sharp eleven), #5 (sharp five), b9 (flat 9), #9 (sharp
nine), b13 (flat thirteen)
a. When you hear a note in your chosen solo that is unrecognizable to Western European
Classical music theories, investigate that note and attempt to identify it using jazz
nomenclature. For example; if the note in question is C# and the chord is GMaj, what is
the jazz nomenclature that correctly identifies C#?
1. 95% of jazz improvisation and composition is exclusively based on this chord
progression. You must understand how this progression is built and how it behaves. The
work and time you spend transcribing your chosen solo will be better economized if you
are able to recognize and identify the locations of this chord progression in the form.
1. There are many ways to create an improvisational idea over a chord progression An
improvised solo in jazz is a melody that is extracted from the scales. The work and time
you spend transcribing your chosen solo will be better economized if you are able to
recognize a group of notes as being part of a scale or arpeggio.
CD 1 Transcriptions
1. West End Blues – Louis Armstrong – Ken Burns Jazz Collection: Louis Armstrong
2. Potato Head Blues – Louis Armstrong – The Essential Louis Armstrong
3. Cornet Chop Suey – Louis Armstrong – This is Jazz vol. 1
4. The Stampede – Fletcher Henderson – A Study in Frustration
5. Rockin Chair – Gene Krupa – Drummin Man
6. I Don’t Wanna Be Kisssed – Clark Terry – Portraits
7. Rockin in Rhythm – Clark Terry – The Happy Horns of Clark Terry
8. Blue Skies – Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison and Zoot Sims – Just Friends
9. A Little Tutu – (same as #8)
10. Anthropology – Fats Navarro – At The Royal Roost
11. Lady Bird – (same as #10)
12. April in Paris (instrumental) – Count Basie & Quincy Jones – Ken Burns Jazz: Count
13. Short Story – Joe Henderson – In ‘n Out
14. ‘Philly’ Twist – Kenny Dorham – Whistle Stop
1. If I Were A Bell – Miles Davis Quintet – Relaxin with Miles
2. Straight, No Chaser – Miles Davis – Newport 1958
3. So What – Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
4. Sandu – Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Alone Together
5. Blues Walk – (same as #4)
6. Joy Spring – (same as nos. 4 & 5)
7. Ceora – Lee Morgan – Cornbread
8. Locomotion – John Coltrane – Blue Train

1 thought on “Transcribing Solos

  1. Hello Mr Gardner. Thanks a lot for your blog on transcribing solos. I have sent you a message on Facebook concerning some private trumpet lessons that I would like to take. Is that possible to meet you at the university of Manitoba? Thanks a lot. Waiting for your reply.


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