I thought I’d share a transcription I recently completed of an amazing saxophonist, Sam Skelton. I discovered this solo on a good friend of mine, Gordon Vernick’s album, Destination. What really drew me to this solo is the way in which Skelton phrases and accents certain notes in his lines. In order to improve my articulation, phrasing and use of space, I decided to work out this solo and I learnt a great deal from it.

The process I use when transcribing a solo is the following:

  1. I listen to the solo many times and attempt to sing along with the solo so that it is ingrained in my mind’s eye (ear) before I began working it out. In my experience, this helps one to know what’s coming up and it makes it easier to retain the solo that if you try and work it out before you really know how it goes. Much of the good work is done at this early point because you’re already internalising the artist’s phrasing, without having actually worked anything out yet.
  2. Secondly, I start to work out the solo by ear using my saxophone, without writing anything out. This is pretty slow going for me, but I just plug away at it a little bit every day. The reason I try to work it out totally by ear and not write anything down, is two-fold. Even though it’s very slow and tedious for me, I find that it improves my aural training and I retain the solo better if I do it this way. By the time you have most of the solo down, one normally has an idea of what the chord changes might be or which chords the soloist could be outlining.
  3. In this case, after working out about 3 choruses, I was really struggling to move forward, because I found the solo difficult. The main thing I always try to do, is to keep moving forward, so if I stall at any point and find myself stagnating, then I move on to the next step so as not to lose momentum. So, the next step was starting to write the solo out by hand. This helped me push through the last chorus of the solo and get everything down. I also made use of the the app, Amazing Slowdowner, on my iPad to help me make sure that I had worked out the correct notes that Skelton was playing.
  4. I then insert the solo into Finale so that it’s legible and so that I can save it digitally. I also compare each chorus of the solo with the others in a vertical analysis. This helps me to see if the soloist does similar or different things at the same point of each chorus. Often it is easier to pick up similarities and differences this way, that one may not notice when the solo is analysed linearly.
  5. I then play the solo along with the recording many, many times, attempting to absorb every nuance when it comes to articulation, dynamics, phrasing and feel.
  6. Lastly, I try to take some phrases through all twelve keys and apply some of the phrasing/rhythmic concepts to some lines of my own over different Standards in order to absorb some of the goodness from this super sax man!

Check out Gordon Vernick’s album, Destination. The musicians are brilliant and it’s a great album. You can also check out Sam Skelton’s website to find out more about him.

Freudian Slip (15 Feb 2017) – Tenor Sax

Vertical Analysis:

Freudian Slip – Verticle Analysis (15 Feb 2017) – SCORE

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