Copying or transcribing?

• Feb 15, 2017 - 21:31

What is the difference between copying and transcribing using musescore. What skill set would you add on a resume?


I once transcribed the theme of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth for classical guitar. I then loaned it to a friend so he could copy it for his own use.


The word "transcribe" has two different meanings in common use.

The first (literally, this is the historically older definition) is to take a piece originally written for one instrument or type of ensemble and to re-arrange it for another instrument or type of ensemble. For example, a piece for orchestra that is re-arranged for saxophone quartet, or a piece for piano that is re-arranged for guitar. Normally the expectation is you make it as exact a copy as you can, changing only what is necessary to fit the requirements of the instrument(s) you are arranging for. This definition is centuries old.

The second definition is only as old as recorded music: to "transcribe" a piece is to listen to the recording and write out the music by ear. Well, I guess in theory someone with really good ears (and memory!) could do this to some extent form a live performance, but the term is normally used in conjunction with recorded music. And it's most common in the jazz world, where people are often interested in seeing written music for solos that were originally improvised. But we also might transcribe melodies that were composed but perhaps are not published or otherwise are not easily obtained by any other means.

The term "copying" has a fairly specific meaningless that is almost completely useless now that there are programs like MuseScore. A "copyist" is a person who takes a score written for many instrument (eg, an orchestra) and then writes out all the individual parts. That used to be a big deal. Now, of course, if your score is in a program like MuseScore, you can get your parts at the push of a button. So that job is mostly non-existent now - or at least, is very much changed from what it used to be. Now it might mean someone who takes a handwritten score and enters it into MuseScore, or someone who takes the parts as generated by MuseScore but then cleans them up - hand-editing slurs, moving dynamics around to avoid collisions with other markings, etc.

As to what to list on a resume, well, you list what you actually do :-). But I'd say if you do "transcribing" in the original historical sense, it probably makes more sense to call yourself an "arranger" these days, even though that term implies you do more than just faithfully recreate things.

I scratched my head over this one when I started with MS. My first MS activities were making laborious renderings of hard-to-read imslp editions -- either hand-written mss or old publications -- into MS. This would involve quite a bit, including combining parts into a score, and changing some symbols, but no musical creativity. It's this that I needed a word for.

I remember searching for a term to describe it. "Copying" seemed wrong, even in the general (non-copyist) sense, as that sounds pretty mindless, and the result looked quite different from the original. "Translate" seemd ok in a general sense, though did not involve a change of language, and anyway was not a standard term for music. I flirted with "Transliterate" for a while. This is mapping at the syntactic level from one script to another, and seemed like it fitted. You'll be happy to hear that I dropped it... "Transcribe" had the two meanings Marc gave, and did not really match. But it seemed to me to be the best available term for what I was doing. I guess "render it in MS" is pretty good, but not standard, and sounds a bit fancy.

I think we don't have a good word for the laborious, non-musically-creative process of rendering a printed/written piece into MS. I just say, "I transcribed it into MS" in a context that makes it clear enough, but I'm not happy with it.

If I were creating a resume entry, I would generally suggest that it is advisable to avoid anything that – in order to be understood by the haplessly-busy reader (potential buyer!) – depends too-much on terminology.

Instead of trying to pick just-the-right word “to describe, technically,” what you did for your last project, strive instead to describe how you were able to benefit the project.

And then:   why it was especially beneficial to that project that they had the good fortune of engaging y-o-u as the one who did it.

Basically, you are selling a product, and that product is:   “your professional services.”   No one on Earth has exactly the experience and background that you do, of course, and (even though these things are by no means “unique in all the world,” and neither are they seriously expected to be) you should nonetheless know how to sell them.   You need to be able to very clearly articulate the compelling business benefits of “buying your product ... from(!) you!”

Let’s face it:   “No matter what it is that you do, lots of people out there can do exactly what you do, technically speaking.”   And yet, none of them do it quite like you do, and none of them have exactly your set of “hard knocks™.”   Therefore ... “why should I buy from you?”   And, why will doing so be the very best business decision that I have ever yet made?   Why am I gonna be gushing your praises at every dinner party I attend in the next two years?   Be honest, now ...

One of the very best books I ever read (aside from How To Win Friends and Influence People ...) is called “The Little Red Book On Selling.”   It’s little, it’s red, and it’s chock-full of information about that most-essential business process called selling.

Let us never forget the maxim that we all read on boring cross-country airline flights:   “In business(!), you don’t get what you deserve.   You get what you negotiate.”

A resume is a sales tool.   Hiring you is a negotiation.   There’s a musical job to be done that needs your qualifications.   Show them why.   They really want to know.   (They really need to know, because this musical project is hugely important ... to them.)

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