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Arranging vs Transcribing

I think of arrangements and transcriptions as puzzles, my own form of sudoku or crosswords. They can be frustrating and it can take hours to figure out one section, but for me, it’s fun! Here’s why:

Arranging and transcription, you’ll hear both of these terms, but what is the difference? Surely they’re the same thing, right? Not quite. Transcription is sometimes a factor when arranging but it’s also a standalone art. While arrangements are often created using a short score or reduction as a basis, transcriptions are completed totally by ear. This is why you may end up paying a lot more for transcriptions than you would for some arrangements. If you think about all of the elements that you need to train your ears to hear and then work out how to write them down, it’s understandable that the cost would be higher, given the amount of hours and work all of that takes.

Often, short scores or piano reductions don’t include those amazing guitar solos that seem improvisational but are a major part of a song. This is where transcriptions come into play. Arrangers may decide that they would like to put that solo back in by transcribing the part, some may leave it out. Arrangements allow space for artistic license, it doesn’t always have to be exact, as long as the essence of the song is present. Transcriptions are often commissioned because the client wants an exact representation of their music, perhaps so that others can play it or for music readers who need to learn it quickly.

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