You get back what you put in

One of the dangers of transcribing music, often encountered by ethnomusicologists, is that of forgetting that what you write down and the music itself are two different things. Or as I keep saying, the map is not the territory.

I was working on a cute piece of Yugoslav dance music called Beogradjanka Kolo by their national accordeon hero Ljubiša Pavković, and this is what I came up with for the first section:


This is how my ear takes it in. But when I slow the video down to half speed I hear that the accordeon articulates those repeated notes with chromatic appoggiaturas. These notes are much shorter than their main notes and are played where possible by swiping a black note rather than depressing the key.

And then I happened upon a video of the same piece accompanied by the score for accordeon as transcribed by Zoran Madzić, who transcribes the same passage like this:


This transcription turns all those repeated notes into grace notes. My Romanian friends call these trills, but unlike trills as a classical musician might understand them, there are strict rhythmic constraints. I prefer to see them as repeated notes with a grace note onset, like what the Irish call “cuts” or the Japanese call “atari”.

But the important thing is: how you learn to play it. And here a lot hinges on what instrument you want to play it on. If a panpipe player tries to learn the piece from the accordeon score he could drown in detail.

On the other hand, if I rely on my own transcription, I risk learning it in a stylistically barren way, and lose this music’s glorious fractality.

In the end the best thing was to use my score as an aide-mémoire to look at while playing along with the video at half speed. For those who didn’t know you could do that, click on the daisy (or cogwheel, for the mechnically minded) underneath any YouTube video.

So while I urge you to make transcriptions, remember that they only contain what you put into them. If you want to sound like the real thing, keep referring back to the original.


Since this blog is about Intervallic Awareness, and we have to start somewhere, here, as a special treat, is a song made of a semitone by Emily Saunders. Enjoy!

Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute

About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
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