@marcozammuto · Double bass, electric bass · Palermo, Italy
In our fourth “Featured transcriber” interview, we chat for the first time with a bassist. Marco Zammuto of Palermo, Italy has been wowing the Soundslice team with his detailed jazz transcriptions that feature the greats of not just jazz bass, but many other instruments. (Vocalists, guitarists, winds, etc.)
What’s particularly enjoyable about checking out Marco’s transcriptions, is that he often records himself playing them. We wanted to find out more about his dedicated process, and the mysterious claim that his channel bio makes: That he’s also a classical musician.
Soundslice: Marco, thank you for being the first bassist in our “Featured transcriber” series. It’s nice to get some commentary from the low end!
Marco: Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure for me to take part in your community.
Soundslice: Before we get into your background, something we love about the transcriptions you share on your channel is that you actually perform many of them. What motivates you to spend the extra time doing that?
Marco: Well, I’ve always transcribed music. I think it is the fastest and most practical method to learning a musical language. You improve your ears, you create a routine of active music listening and you also begin to understand why certain things are played certain ways.
My [performance] videos show the mere execution of a solo, but behind them, I study the harmonic analysis carefully. I break the solo into small parts which I learn from. It’s how I enrich my vocabulary.
Soundslice: Ah, so there’s even more work going on that what we see. How long does it take you to learn and break down a solo that way?
Marco: It depends on the length and complexity of the solo. If I’ve transcribed the musician many times before, I have a familiarity with their vocabulary and my transcribing and breakdown speed increases. The process is typically: I learn it by ear, notate it and then compare it with the track.
I usually post a [transcription] video once a week. Sometimes I have to archive it for later study. (To keep up with the 1-per-week rate.) Many times I‘ll focus on just one or two harmonic concepts to practice in twelve keys and with rhythmic variations.
Soundslice: That’s a very dedicated process! Some of your transcriptions are by musicians that don't play bass. (E.g., Ella Fitzgerald, Clifford Brown, Biréli, etc.) It’s fantastic to see you execute them so well on a completely different, and much bigger instrument. What are some of the challenges you find in playing other instrumentalist’s lines on the bass?
Marco: The biggest challenge is to make every execution musical and fluid. When it comes to working out the technical, it’s just a matter of a study routine. But the real difficulty is making everything sound melodic. The sound emission from a bass is much different than other instruments, but it’s still possible to mimic them. In ancient times, stringed instruments were invented to imitate the human voice and wind instruments, so, it can be done. I ask myself, “How does a double bass have to articulate sound like a trumpet?” I have to listen a lot to pick up on these things.
Soundslice: The listening shows. What’s your primary motivation for sharing these transcriptions on your channel? (For yourself, for others, something else…?)
Marco: A few reasons. The first is that I think it’s right to share music, points of view and experiences. I was lucky enough to study in a very open academic environment right from the start. I was used to not being protective of my musical discoveries. I’d share without borders.
Another reason is for self-evaluation. Looking back on these published transcription videos lets me see things that have yet to improve. It’s is also an excellent system for learning many things that have nothing to do with bass playing! I am referring to placing microphones, working with a video camera, DAW, video editing, social media strategies. Following a format helps to self-evaluate, reduce the time in the various steps, and compare with colleagues on the web.
Soundslice: That sounds like a fortunate environment to come up learning music. And I’m so glad you mentioned the practice of music-related things! That’s so true.
Backing up a bit now, would you tell us about where you’re from?
Marco: I’m from a small town in the south of Sicily, but now I live in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily.
Soundslice: Ah, our friend Michael Valeanu has a composition inspired by Palermo. What’s the music scene like there?
Marco: There is a solid jazz and music scene. In my opinion, Palermo is a beautiful city to be a bass player because there are so many different little worlds to play in. I’m lucky to work in big bands, mainstream groups, modern and gypsy jazz combos, symphonic and baroque ensembles, a world music band…
Soundslice: Sounds fantastic.
Marco: Yes, and all those differences between the different music worlds keep your brain fresh! It can give you the motivation to expand your knowledge, meet different players and see music with a different point of view.
Soundslice: Speaking of points of view, you have all these wonderful jazz transcriptions, yet your profile mentions that you’re a classically-trained bassist. Could you talk about your classical music background?
Marco: When I started to study double bass in conservatory, I was undecided about which musical world to choose: classical or jazz. I didn’t want to pick one, as a teacher had recommended. I wanted to learn both. I was drawn to the tradition of classical music, but also had an attachment to the electric bass (my first instrument). So I auditioned for both programs at the conservatory.
Soundslice: You started on electric. Were you already learning jazz?
Marco: On no. Jazz came later. When I was fifteen, I was in a recording studio with a death metal band to record a demo. I was warming up on my fretless bass, and at one point, the sound engineer gave me a record to listen to. It was Jaco Pastorius and I was blown away.
Soundslice: I wonder if that sound engineer has any idea what they’ve done. So what happened with the conservatory auditions?
I ultimately was admitted to both programs and decided to go for both. (Took it as destiny.) The first years were very hard: Each path had equivalent coursework, which meant double the effort. Bass lessons for both, piano lessons for both, music history for both. The list goes on. At one point toward the beginning, I was about to drop the classical degree. The instrument can be very stressful, and I was burdened by the differences in language with jazz. Still, I decided that I could not give up such a beautiful thing. I started to wake up very early to dedicate more time to classical music and to reach more and more distant goals.
Soundslice: What dedication! Do you find that you have different practice routines when working on classical vs. jazz?
Marco: Yes, and I’ve experimented with different routines over the years. These days, my classical routine is:
Bow exercises. (Open strings, scales, arpeggios and arco strokes.)
Concert studies (Caimmi, Mengoli, Capricci di Billè).
Concert repertoire and listening. (I like to listen to one performer for a long periods of time. Lately it’s Marcos Machado and Giuseppe Ettorre.)
For jazz, the routine is:
Warm up with a standard.
Work on a specific concept over a medium-range time period (e.g., analyzing walking lines from original recordings, harmonic substitutions, rhythmical pedals, clichés, etc.
Soundslice: Again, what dedication! Do you practice all these topics for an equal amount of time?
Marco: No. The time depends on how new the topic is to me (more time for a newer topic), or say if I have a deadline to prepare repertoire. There is also personal desire. If I’m particularly inspired by something, I’ll spend more time.
Soundslice: You’ve got to learn the material by concert time, there’s no getting around that. Before we wrap up, we like to ask everyone: Do you have a dream feature request on Soundslice?
Marco: Soundslice is a great system! I might even upgrade my account to take advantage of the excellent other features. One thing that would be cool: automatic synchronization between a video and the notation.
Soundslice: Ah, we’ve got that one in the back of our minds as well. Well, thank you again, Marco! We appreciate you taking the time, and look forward to more of your transcriptions!
Marco: Thank you, Soundslice! It’s been a pleasure to take part in this interview and to be part of your fantastic community.
Last month we highlighted music educators that have taken their in-person lessons online during the pandemic, with the help of Soundslice. Since that story, more teachers have shared with us their stories of musical resilience. We’d like to feature a few of them here.
Dan Peterson — Washington D.C. Metro, USA
Dan Peterson is a former member of the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Since retiring from service in 2013, Dan has maintained an active teaching schedule in the D.C. metro area, with around 60 in-person students. The majority of Dan’s students are learning guitar or ukulele, though he also teaches bass, mandolin, harmonica and music theory.
When the coronavirus arrived, Dan quickly pivoted his in-person lessons so that they could continue remotely. After getting over the hump of setting up Zoom for everyone, he found that adding Soundslice-prepared notation as a supplement to his instruction seemed to be a hit for his distance learners. One of his mandolin students, Heidi, said:
“As I progress and learn more complex fingering, it is important for me to see what Dan’s fingers are doing compared to [just] the music notation. Not being able to have face-to-face lessons was going to slow me down. Then Dan started using Soundslice — what a wonderful app! On the left hand of my screen I can see Dan’s fingers on the frets up close, and on the right is the music. There’s a red cursor, so if I get goofed up, I know exactly where to continue again. The best part is I can use Dan’s Soundslice presentations any time I want!”
Though technical limitations prohibited some of Dan’s students from continuing on with him remotely, he did say that the overall success of the virtual lessons has him rethinking his previous teach-from-home business model and 70-mile commute. (He lives in West Virginia.) He says the possibility of continuing to teach remotely would give him both “extra hours and quite a bit of extra sanity!”
“I can see how Soundslice could help me build an online curriculum for distance learning as well as stand-alone courses for those not actively enrolled in lessons.”
UkeBoxLessons — Ottawa, Canada
Joel Jacques teaches private and group ukulele lessons in Ottawa through his school UkeBoxLessons. Though he’s been using Soundslice with his students for a while now, he told us about how he used it to coordinate a recent group project with his students.
“During this period, my group instrumental ensemble still gets together to learn new material online on Zoom, with the music shared through Soundslice. The special new project we've undertaken this month is to have the members record themselves playing their parts at home using Soundslice as their reference track.” [See the assembled performance slice below.]
“It’s been a nice project to get everyone comfortable with using more technology for music making. It’s nice as well to keep that feeling of working on a collective project.”
Conservatorio de Música de Bahía Blanca — Argentina
Conservatorio de Música de Bahía Blanca is a free, public music school with nearly 1,500 students ranging from nine-year-olds to adults. When the quarantine was declared in Argentina, the school was about to begin its semester. Determined to start instruction, the staff began improvising solutions that would let them send notation and recordings digitally to their students. (One solution was the creation of animated YouTube videos.)
When they discovered Soundslice, the “enthusiasm of the teachers” and “positivity of the students” was immediate. Students were quickly accessing slices with joined notation and recordings via their phones. (See one of the prepared slices below.) Some were even submitting audio and video recordings of themselves to their teacher via our new performances feature.
An instructor at the conservatory, Pablo Marfil, told us:
“After I told my colleagues about Soundslice, we created a WhatsApp group to share knowledge. In less than a week, there were more than ten professors producing slices for sax, violin, clarinet, acoustic and electric bass, ensembles…nearly a hundred slices and counting.”
“I think this is a great example of how the crisis has sharpened our creativity. [Given resource limitations.] Many of our students have access to [web] content only via very basic cell phones — which is another reason Soundslice works so well. We frequently hear gratitude from our students about being able to continue their musical studies. An ‘oasis’ during the quarantine.”
UpBeat — Arizona Arts in Schools (Update)
One of the music organizations we highlighted in our previous story, UpBeat, just released the video of the virtual, end-of-the-year concert they told us they were planning. Congratulations to the students and teachers involved!
There’s no doubt that people are going about their lives differently now. Despite the challenging circumstances, we’ve been impressed by the creativity of music teachers who have taken their private lessons, and even group rehearsals (!), digital. We’d like to highlight a few that we know here:
UpBeat — Arizona Arts in Schools (The University of Arizona)
UpBeat is a percussion and music literacy education program in Tucson, Arizona, that brings accomplished percussion instructors into the classrooms of nearby schools. The program is free, and it serves schools where 80-100% of students qualify for free or reduced meals.
Normally, UpBeat is an in-person learning experience, where an instrumentalist gives group instruction in coordination with a certified arts teacher. They’ve since moved online. To keep the learning going, students now have digital access to UpBeat’s original method books, aided by drive-in WiFi hotspots. The etudes from the method book are presented with Soundslice so that students can practice at home along with a recording of their teacher. (How cool!)
In place of their normal end-of-the-year showcase concert, students are encouraged to submit performances of themselves practicing along with their Soundslice recordings. Those clips will then be edited together for a virtual showcase concert.
Holly Holmes, the assistant director of UpBeat’s parent organization, Arizona Arts in Schools, says “Soundslice has been pivotal to help us transform our outreach programs into distance-learning resources.”
The People’s Music School — Chicago, IL
The People’s Music School is an institution from our hometown that brings instrumental music education into schools with underserved arts programs. Through their program, students ages 5-18 engage in hours of weekly musical instruction in the form of private lessons, music theory classes and full orchestral rehearsals. This instruction is led by a staff of highly-trained musicians and educators who travel to partner schools and also teach in their own practice-room-equipped building in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. The program is 100% free to students and participating schools.
Embracing the new normal of stay-at-home, People’s Music has moved their in-person private lessons and even group rehearsals online. Thanks to a dedicated staff, they’ve aggressively digitized over 250 etudes and pieces into Soundslice, so that teachers and students have the resources they need. Instructor Felipe Tobar told us how he uses a clever combination of video conferencing software and Soundslice to run his group rehearsals.
While an ensemble meets over Zoom, Felipe shares his screen of a Soundslice score so that everyone can view the same music at the same time. He then leads the group through the music — muting the other performers so that they can hear and play along with him. This means students get to rehearse a piece of music together, and they spend the most possible time playing their instruments.
During these rehearsals, Felipe uses the Soundslice notation editor to make annotations — like bowing and dynamics — on the fly for all students to see. (Genius!) When asked to elaborate on the “Why?” of running group lessons despite the obvious logistical issues, Felipe didn’t blink to suggest that the trouble was worth it.
“Even in a real-world rehearsal situation, when musicians are asked to play solo, it’s easy for them to shrink. But when they play in a group, they are empowered. This is even true digitally — the act of us all playing together is powerful and encouraging. It’s also important that students spend as much time as possible with their instruments in hand, actually playing. These remote group rehearsals accomplish that.”
People’s Music is learning, and from what we see, leading the way in establishing what president and artistic director Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa referred to as the “new rituals” of our arts and communal lives. In just that spirit, they’re planning a virtual concert for this summer. Students will submit recordings of themselves performing “Ode to Joy” along with their Soundslice sheet music (to keep everyone in tempo!), which will be edited together for a virtual concert for friends, family and community.
Forest Wilson — Anchorage, AK
Forest Wilson is a private lesson instructor in Anchorage, Alaska. He normally teaches out of an in-person studio, which has since moved online. He was kind enough to tell us about how he’s been conducting his remote lessons and using Soundslice in the process.
“I teach about 30-40 lessons a week from my own independent studio, and during the pandemic, I’ve had to teach all of my lessons online via Zoom or Skype. Soundslice has been great as I can pull up assignments on a shared screen during these socially distanced times. Even some of my less tech-savvy students have found it easy to learn from, and of course young kids love it because it’s almost a way to gamify their assignments.
“I’ve only been using Soundslice for a couple of weeks…but I’ve already gotten great feedback from students. The tablature functions are very nuanced, so I’m able to convey all the little slurs and intricacies of a piece to a student. When you couple that with a loopable, video performance with adjustable tempo, students have everything at their disposal to really master songs…maybe even more so than before.”
Here’s an example of the kinds of slices Forest has been creating for his students to study remotely. Since he was so kind with his words about us, we won’t hesitate to add a personal note that we are really impressed by his playing! :)
[Forest’s arrangement of “Red Prairie Dawn” by Garry Harrison.]
Are you a teacher using Soundslice for distance learning?
Please reach out to us. We’d love to hear about what you’re doing, and we’ll offer any assistance we can.
Update May 28, 2020: Read about more teachers in our follow up to this story.
In the latest entry of our “Featured transcriber” series, we chat with pianist Fred Greene. Fred’s Soundslice channel is full of some of the baddest jazz and gospel piano transcriptions that you’re going to find. In this interview, we find out more about his experience with these genres, ask him for tips on transcribing difficult piano passages and discuss his perspective as a teacher of modern music learners.
Soundslice: Fred, thanks very much for being the first pianist in our “Featured transcriber” series. We were blown away when you started posting your detailed transcriptions.
Fred: Thanks for having me! I’m humbled and excited to do this — it’s actually my first interview.
Soundslice: The first thing we want to ask (selfishly) is: How did you come across our website? The reason for the question is that we tend to be better known in guitar-playing circles.
Fred: I was looking for some type of software to sync videos, notation and a virtual piano keyboard. I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to technology — I was having a lot of trouble finding something that was both easy to use and, honestly, free.
I happened to see a post on Instagram from you guys and I said, “that’s what I’m looking for.” It blew me away that the free sign up gave you access to all the notation features. It was also so easy to use! I thought, “If I can figure out how to use this, anyone can.” :)
I did notice that the site was was guitar-heavy, but it was still exactly what I needed to create the kind of content I was picturing.
Soundslice: Well, we’re glad you found us. Speaking of content, your channel is full of fantastic transcriptions, and from your Instagram profile, we see that you’re also a wonderful player. Would you tell us a bit about your musical background?
Fred: I started playing in church when I was a teenager. I was learning mostly by ear, trying to pick new songs off of the radio. I got more serious when I was about 15, and at 19, I decided I wanted to pursue music full time. I was already in college — I actually changed my major to music. It wasn’t until then that I had my first private lesson.
Like I said, until that point, I had relied so much on my ear. My reading and technique were garbage. My new teacher introduced me to classical music, and over the course of four years I focused just on that. Learning classical music really improved my technique.
Like any other music major, I studied music theory. I got serious about what it meant to become a student of music. After I earned my associates degree, I went on to UMBC [Maryland Baltimore County] to study jazz piano. That’s where I learned everything I know about jazz. I studied under Harry Appleman — he really broke down my playing and taught me to play with intention. I have always been a bit of a sponge when it comes to learning, and I soaked it all up.
Soundslice: It’s both impressive and inspiring to hear that your first private lesson wasn’t until you were 19. Do you maintain your classical chops?
Fred: Yes and no. :) I practice classical music from time to time, but it’s just for analytical study. For example, I love working on Bach’s fugues. Seeing how he maneuvers through chord changes is amazing. Or with Chopin, I love to see how he will voice a specific chord.
Soundslice: So you’re still pulling from that tool chest. Well, speaking of practice, in a video you recently shared on Instagram, you show yourself practicing 1-6-2-5-1 ideas along with a metronome. Is this a typical drill that you work on?
Fred: Wow! You guys really do your homework. No, I don’t always practice soloing with the metronome. It was something I used to do, but I’ve honestly gotten away from it. My goal this year is to make that a consistent part of my routine.
Soundslice: What’s that routine like?
Fred: This year, my focus is on developing stronger lines in my solos. I work on a lot of bebop, and as you can see, and I do a lot of transcribing of my favorite soloists. I’m interested in understanding why a specific line works melodically and/or rhythmically.
My favorite pianist is Bill Evans. He was a master of harmony, so that topic is what I spend a lot of time working on. Bill could take a simple chord structure, make it so big and complex, but still hold the listener’s attention. I’m always searching for that kind of thing when I sit at the piano. I am looking for my own voice.
Soundslice: Bill’s a master. There’s actually a nice collection of Bill Evans slices on our site (many made by you!) We’ve put them into a playlist here.
But a bit more about your practice: Lines seem like a straightforward concept to buckle down on, but how do you approach your harmonic studies? It can seem like such a dense topic!
Fred: Yes you are right! I develop my harmonic vocabulary by listening to my favorites — Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau — particularly to how they approach certain jazz standards. I try to learn by ear exactly what they play on those classics. I ask myself, “Why does this work so well?” and “Why does it sound good?” I then try to put what I’ve heard into a different context and make it my own.
[Here’s an example of Fred doing just that with his own reharm of “Someday My Prince Will Come.”]
Another approach I recommend is to explore your instrument! I think that’s the most underrated thing in music education. Some of my harmonic vocabulary was discovered by accident as I was just trying things out on the piano. I try to dedicate a few minutes of exploration in my practice session. Try it!
Lastly and most importantly, I am a student of music theory. I study and read about music, and I love analyzing why certain chords work well with others.
Soundslice: You are indeed a sponge, Fred! That’s a great tip about exploration. Noted! Since you mentioned music education, and I know that you’re an instructor, would you tell us a little about that part of your life?
Fred: I am a private music instructor at Music & Arts. I have over 50 students that I teach weekly — the ages range from 4-75. I love teaching one-on-one lessons, because each session is personalized. It’s humbling to watch a student grow as a pianist — I’m proud that I now have students that are pursuing music professionally, and going on to attend arts schools..
Soundslice: Your students are lucky to have you! This may be hard to answer, but do you notice any differences (for better or worse) in how younger musicians approach learning jazz compared to when you began your studies?
Fred: Well I consider myself young at 33. :) But to answer your question, I see mostly positive things with younger musicians. They have access to so much free information, just through YouTube alone. There are so many great tutorials and resources to learn jazz — nowadays you don’t necessarily have to go to a university. All information is in your pocket!
On the flip side, I do think the access to all these resources can make some people lazy. The way the greats learned was by doing the hard work of transcribing the language, understanding the language, and then adding their own voice to that larger conversation of jazz. It’s not enough just to mimic and sound like another musician.
Soundslice: Well let’s talk about transcribing. You’ve got a wonderful collection of jazz and gospel pianists on your channel. Is there an overlap for you between these genres? (Musical or otherwise.)
Fred: Yes! As I mentioned earlier, my first influence is gospel — specifically contemporary gospel. There is definitely an overlap for me. In fact, the only reason I got into learning jazz was because I would look up the influences of my favorite gospel pianists: They were listening to and practicing jazz. When I started studying jazz myself, I could see the similar chord voicings and scales. I admittedly don’t practice gospel as much anymore, but I still keep my ear very close to it. You may see it bleed into my playing — it’s part of my roots!
Soundslice: Well it’s a really beautiful combination of styles. Are there any pianists you might recommend listening to that also blur the line on these influences?
Fred: Cory Henry is the first pianist that comes to mind! I used to follow his playing before he became famous with Snarky Puppy and the “Lingus” solo. :) It’s hard to put him in a box, but you will still hear that gospel flavor with jazz chops.
I’d also recommend Shuan Martin! He’s played with Snarky Puppy as well as the legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin. Nick Semrad is another great pianist to check out — he often plays with Cory. There’s a cool clip on YouTube of them playing a gospel song together. I’d say those are the guys that capture a nice blend of both gospel and jazz.
Soundslice: That’s a beautiful clip of Cory and Nick. Thank you for the recommendations!
One last question for you on transcribing: Do you have any advice for single note players (like me!) that want to get better at transcribing what they hear piano players do? It can feel a little overwhelming to be confronted with the polyphony of both hands.
Fred: Yes, it can be overwhelming. I would start with mastering hearing the right hand. Learn the solo without the comping chords in the left. I believe an underrated skill in piano transcribing is simply distinguishing what’s being played by what hand.
[Here’s a right-hand transcription of Bill Evans.]
You should focus on learning transcriptions from songs that you already know very well — preferably blues or something with a very simple chord structure. That way you’ll have some context as you try to hear what they’re doing.
When you move on to the left hand, study the art of left hand rootless voicings. From the early players to even the most modern, you’ll hear these same voicings recycled in the left hand. A great resource for this is The Jazz Piano book by Mark Levine. It has a whole chapter on it.
I would say, “Don’t cheat yourself!” I never settle for close enough when it comes to transcribing. Sometimes I can stay on one chord for thirty minutes or an hour until I get it just right! I’d also say, “Use Soundslice!” It has really helped me. I can isolate and loop a chord or section at a slower speed to make sure I catch every nuance of a chord!
Soundslice: Phenomenal advice (and praise!) We will gladly take it all. :) Since you plugged us, do you have any dream feature requests from us?
Fred: To be honest you guys are amazing! I can’t think of anything that you guys should add that you don’t already have. You’ve have made transcribing much easier for me!
Soundslice:Shucks. Fred, I think that about does it. Thank you again for taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate your craft, and we’re grateful to have you around the site!
Fred: It’s my pleasure! Thanks again for the great resource and platform. You guys are amazing.
The second entry in our “Featured transcriber” series is an interview with Lars Petzold-Turcanu of Bonn, Germany. Lars has been sharing transcriptions on his Soundslice channel for about a year — just over 160 slices at this point. He’s built up a nice following and has become one of our favorite transcribers.
Lars’ transcriptions tend to feature extremely complicated guitar playing, often in the jazz and gypsy jazz genres. He dives deep into rare performance videos from artists that we love (e.g., George Benson and Adrien Moignard), and he occasionally posts more than one detailed transcription in a single day! How does he do it? We ask this and more in our newest “Featured transcriber” interview.
Soundslice: Lars, thank you for being the second guest in our “Featured transcriber” series. We get very excited whenever you post something new, and I bet we’re not the only ones.
Lars: Many thanks for your interest. I’m glad that Soundslice is out there, not only because it makes transcribing so easy, but also because there is now a kind of online community for nerds like me.
Soundslice: Would you tell us a bit about your musical background?
Lars: My name is Lars Petzold-Turcanu and I am 47 years old. I taught myself to play the guitar when I was about 10. My first interests were country, blues and ragtime. Early blues artists like Blind Blake and Big Bill Broonzy caught my ear at first, and then I went on to the more psychedelic Jimi Hendrix and Tom Waits. But my love for jazz was sealed after I heard a radio program that featured Wes Montgomery.
As a player, I’ve been in different formations. The most well-known was with a nu-jazz ensemble called “Greenfish,” which secured a contract with the German jazz label Enja Records. We recorded an album and toured various festivals. I began studying jazz seriously, but once my civil service was complete, I came to my real vocation: special education.
I confess this change was good for me, as I do not like to travel or sleep in hotels. :)
When it comes to my studies on the guitar, I learned to play classical — which has always fascinated me. Some time later, I explored flamenco and dance accompaniment, and then more exotic folk music of Russia and Romania. All of this is to say transcribing has always been a part of me. In colloquial German, we say “raushören” — something like: “I’m digging things up by listening.”
Soundslice: That’s a very interesting path. So these days, do you mostly transcribe, or do you play out a bit?
Lars: I do about twenty concerts a year — just the things I really like to do. It’s quite compatible with family and job life. [Pictured below, Lars with his gypsy jazz group, Café Gitan.]
Soundslice: That sounds nice. :) So what’s the live music scene like where you live?
Lars: Very diverse. In Bonn and Cologne, we have a lot of regular live music, festivals and international concerts. In Cologne in particular, there is a lively session scene. You’ll find regular musical gatherings for gypsy jazz, jazz, bluegrass, Irish-folk, etc. Some great musicians come here from the surrounding area. You never get bored.
Soundslice: Your Soundslice profile says that you’re an aspiring violinist. Is this a new pursuit?
Lars: My first wish as a child was to play the violin. But it was too expensive for a working-class family. I eventually got a used “guitar.” When my son was born 4 years ago, I fulfilled my wish and got myself a violin.
I wrote a piece for him which is published on the album of my band Café Gitane. A very good friend named Frank Brempel played the violin part. I practice it and hope to play it as beautifully to my son. Maybe I should share the sheet one day here on Soundslice?
Update April 15, 2020: Lars did end up making a slice for this lovely composition.
Soundslice: That’s a good idea. Do you play the violin at any of these sessions you mention?
Lars: Yes, I play it at gypsy jazz sessions where I can already keep my head above water — I also play fiddle in a folk/bluegrass band. I am a dilettante and I enjoy it.
Soundslice: That description is overly humble! You have so many great transcriptions on your profile and you are clearly putting in quite a bit of work. Have you always transcribed this much? (Before starting to use Soundslice.)
Lars: Yes. I never had any lessons when I was a child, so it all started for me with listening to records and tapes. At first I’d learn the music by ear and wouldn’t write it down; that progressed and I started putting tabs in arithmetic books. Bit by bit, it became a little obsession. Maybe not a little one.
Soundslice: So it was really your whole education. What motivates you to keep transcribing at this point?
Lars: First of all, it is a very relaxing activity for me. I really get into it — like someone might enjoy watching TV. I want to understand how something works. What did Coltrane or Björk think? How does flamenco work? What typical fingerings do Allan Holdsworth, George Benson, Wes or Django use? Something like that — it’s endless!
My big question with the guitar is: “Where did who get which ideas?”
Soundslice: You mean, when you hear someone playing a musical idea, you want to see if you recognize it from another player?
Lars: Yes! I think of it in the form a family tree of ideas. I love that.
Soundslice: You transcribe so many technically difficult passages, so we’re curious: What’s your transcription process like?
Lars: With Soundslice, it’s easy. Insert or upload a piece. Set syncpoints. Listen to the piece and tabulate it with the appropriate fingering. It gets exhausting if the sound of the recording is bad or if the passage is rhythmically demanding. A ballad is usually a bit more difficult to put down on paper than an uptempo number.
Does that answer your question? Maybe you can give me an example of what you mean by technically difficult? Then maybe I can answer it better.
Soundslice Well, it’s admittedly an objective statement that something is technically difficult. :) But for example, the triplet passage in this transcription you made of Bireli playing “Hungaria” (starting at bar 89) just sounds so hard to parse — like a swarm of bees! Is it hard for you to figure that out?
Lars: No. That’s an easy one. This one, for example, was way more difficult:
The beat is slow, and the lines just sort of float. You don’t see the problems when you look at the completed slice, but the rhythms were very hard to figure out. Of course, when the sound quality gets worse, or the rhythm section starts to play their own rhythms that go against the soloist, it’s really hard to concentrate on what’s going on.
There are always a few slices that I’m working on at any given time. When the concentration leaves me on one, I switch to another. I eventually come back and finish where I left off. The most difficult ones take the longest time. For example I’m working on this one right now, and it’s going to be a while.
Soundslice: So when you have one of those challenging ones, is it important that you see the fingerboard of the player, or are you listening more?
Lars: I’m definitely listening more. Seeing does help to get to the bottom of the fingerings, which helps you to understand the player’s idiosyncrasies and how they organize the fretboard. That understanding is the crucial step that helps you better understand how he or she came up with their ideas. From there, you can derive things for your own playing.
Soundslice: We see a lot of George Benson and Adrien Moignard on your channel. Do you have an all-time favorite solo from either of them?
Lars: I transcribe so much Benson because I wanted to understand how he organized his game. I had this experience about a year ago where I was at a gypsy jam and all the tunes were up-tempo. I hadn’t played guitar for a while, so I struggled to keep up. I thought, “I have to practice again,” so I took George Benson on.
He’s kind of the source — he influenced all the other virtuoso guitarists (e.g., Bireli Lagrene and Adrien Moignard.) What I find fascinating, is that in addition to Wes, you can also find influences from Django and Hank Garland in George Benson’s playing.
Soundslice: Yes! In his biography, he also mentions the heavy influence of Charlie Christian. So what about some of your favorite transcriptions?
Lars: An absolute top solo on my channel is Wes’s “Take the A-Train.”
A few Benson favorites:
“Way Back Home” by George Benson. (Tony Williams drives the solo with his drums.)
Soundslice: That’s plenty for anyone new to your transcriptions to dig into. Do you have favorite licks or passages from any of them?
Lars: With “A-Train" by Wes, the whole solo is a masterpiece. You can’t do better than that. On “Seven Comes Eleven”, it’s the part where Benson quotes Hank Garland. It starts on bar 103. Somehow I find it difficult to name a singular favorite passage.
Soundslice: What do you do with a transcription when you’re finished with it?
Lars: That varies. I have created two lists of ideas from my Soundslice transcriptions: one of which is filled with passages that I practice, the other simply a list of musical ideas that I’m inspired by. Both are constantly being expanded.
Soundslice: Speaking of inspiration, are there any guitar players you’ve recently found out about that excite you?
Soundslice: Last question: do you have a dream Soundslice feature that we might build? :)
Lars: Well, there are ideas. An EQ function would be good for technically bad recordings. I’ve been killing myself for months over that “Cherokee” solo from Wes that I mentioned earlier. You can barely hear the guitar.
A DM function to communicate with other musicians would be great, and so would the ability to back up YouTube recordings. (Unfortunately I’ve lost some work that’s been removed!)
But I think Soundslice is already great as it is. Really, really great work.
Soundslice: Those are good ones! Sorry to hear that you’ve lost a YouTube recording. :(
Well, Lars, thank you yet again! We appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, and we definitely appreciate all the work you put into making these fantastic transcriptions. We look forward to many more!
Lars: Thank you very much for your interest! I am looking forward to a lively, nerdy exchange in this community. All the best to you!
Since Soundslice Channels launched nearly two years ago, people have posted thousands of slices. Everything from bite-sized ii-V-I licks to full-blown workshops and masterclasses. As a team, we’ve been wowed by this activity and community. There are almost too many good transcriptions to appreciate!
With that in mind, we’re very excited to do something new today on the Soundslice Blog. We’re starting a new interview series, where we talk with Soundslice users about transcribing, learning, practicing, performing and music in general.
First up is Matt Sears. Matt’s a professional guitarist from the UK who’s currently living and working in China. He’s a monster transcriber. We’ll do a deep-dive into some of his slices, analyze a few musical snippets and learn more about him as an artist.
Soundslice: Matt, thanks for being the first transcriber to be profiled on our blog. We’ve been following your channel since you started and are big fans.
MS: It’s my pleasure, I’m honored that you asked me. I’ve been following you guys for a long time, and I love everything you guys do.
Soundslice: Your profile mentions that you’re from the UK but you live in China. What brought you there, and how long has it been?
MS: Yes, I originally came to China with a band in 2016 just for six months and wanted the opportunity to come back. I did that in January 2018, and I’ve since completely relocated here. Early next year I will be opening a music school here, which I’m really looking forward to.
Soundslice: Wow — that’s a massive life change! What kind of music are you teaching students there? Anything similar to what you transcribe on your channel?
MS: Yes, it’s very different from the London scene but I’m enjoying it. Most of my students are rock-based, and some have an interest in transitioning to jazz. Many of them are into guys like Greg Howe and Guthrie Govan.
Soundslice: Players we’ve seen a good amount of on your channel. :) What’s the language barrier like when discussing music? (Assuming that there is one.)
MS: My teaching is more based around preparing the students for studying abroad, so they would already be able to speak English. Some of the terms that would be used in American or English music schools may be different, so they’ll get that from me also.
Soundslice: Got it — so the language chops are already there. Have you been turned on to any Chinese music since being there?
MS: There are always killer guitar solos on the radio. Unfortunately it’s difficult for me to find out who the artist is — even harder to find out who the guitarist is.
Soundslice: That makes sense. It’s interesting to imagine the prevalence of rock guitar solos on Chinese radio.
Going through the slices on your channel, there seems to be a trend: serious bop and serious shred. Is that a fair assessment? :)
MS: Haha yes, I would say that’s pretty accurate. I’ve always loved the harmony used in jazz, and the groove and fire from the more shred styles.
Soundslice: How do these styles overlap in your mind? Are you able to pull from them in a meaningful way in your own playing?
MS: I’ve always tried to draw from both rock and jazz in my playing. In a rock setting, I’ve always used the jazz knowledge to play the changes and target different notes than a typical rock solo. Then in a jazz setting, I listen to guys like Michael Brecker and John Coltrane — you can hear them in full bop (shred) mode. A flurry of notes that really turns your head. That’s always been a goal of mine that I’m always working toward.
The rock players I’m influenced by do this overlap in spades — one of the big ones for me is Steve Lukather. He would talk about being influenced by jazz and the guitarist Larry Carlton. From Larry I heard about Joe Pass, and from there the ball kept rolling.
Players like Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton really show how you can mix both styles. Check out the solo on Toto’s Animal to hear some shred and aggression followed by a really nice bop-style phrase. (That’s Steve.)
Soundslice: Right on. We did a quick search for Larry Carlton transcriptions already on Soundslice and put together a playlist. (Check it out.) Unfortunately there aren’t any Lukather transcriptions yet — though there are a couple noble covers of his Rosanna solo.
Soundslice: Larry and Steve are living legends from the US. What about any influences of yours from the UK?
MS: Yes! One UK guy I have to mention when talking about mixing these two styles is Shaun Baxter. He has a great album called Jazz Metal that really influenced me. It’s the perfect example of mixing bebop and shred technique. I also have to mention Jake Willson, Jack Gardiner and John Wheatcroft. They’ve all been very influential to me as a musician.
Soundslice: Since we’re on the topic of this bebop/shred alchemy, is there a super-small example of a bop phrase that you’ve transcribed that you might try using in a non-bop context?
MS: Sure — I think a good first step to incorporate jazz lines in your rock playing is to practice playing chromatic enclosures on target chord tones. It’s a nice way to spice up solos when the chords are static. It’s also a nice way to get comfortable with chromatic tones in general. Don’t do it too much though. You may get fired. :)
Here’s just such an enclosure from my transcription of Brian Sheu’s “Isn’t She Lovely” improv. This would be starting at bar 5 (the first 8 notes).
So to isolate the line, the first 4 notes are an enclosure that targets the Ab on beat 2. (The 3rd of an Fm7 chord.)
Soundslice: Would you use it in a sentence? :)
MS: Sure, here’s an improv take with the example peppered in. The backing track is from Jam Track Central.
Soundslice: That was awesome. Killer closing riff at the end.
Soundslice: What’s your approach to transcribing in general? Do you prefer to figure out how to play it and then notate it, vice versa, or does it change?
MS: I listen to a lot of music, and I have a notepad on my phone where I’ll jot down timestamps of particular licks I’d like to learn. I also follow so many great players on Instagram — so I find a lot of inspiration there.
Usually I’ll write out the transcription first, then I’ll analyze it and take my favorite lines from it. Occasionally I will learn a solo just on guitar and not write it out, but it’s not very often. It’s nice to have it written out and maybe a year down the line you hear that solo again and you can dig through your transcriptions and re-learn it.
Soundslice: Do you learn to play everything you notate, or is some of it just for fun?
MS: When I first started transcribing I would learn the full solo — it was important for me to see how someone like George Benson will build the arc of an entire improvisation. I wanted to see how he’d get in and out of the lines that really interested me.
Now I just take the parts that resonate with me and apply those. I think it’s important to learn the concepts from a transcription — not just the notes, but why they’re being played. Once you know why the notes work, you can write your own lines.
There’s also something very satisfying about transcribing. It’s always nice to see your work after you’ve finished...especially now with Soundslice where you can sync everything up and follow along. It really inspired me to transcribe more.
Soundslice: Can we put that on a billboard? :)
Soundslice: Do you have any advice for guitarists who are interested in getting better at transcribing but have never really done it?
MS: I would start with something fairly easy. Don’t get discouraged. On the first day maybe you only get two or three notes of a lick down. The next day you’ll get five, and so on. It does get easier the more you practice it, and for my mind, it is the best thing you can do for your playing.
There are some guitar-specific things you can try that will help when notating rhythms. If the line uses 8th notes, you can strum along, down up down up, along with each eighth note in the line. If the note you’re looking for lands on a downstroke, it’s on the beat. (1, 2, 3 or 4.) If the note you’re looking for is an upstroke, it’s either the “and” of 1, the “and” of 2, and so on.
Another thing on the rhythm side is to check out Konnakkol, which is a South Indian music system for vocalizing rhythms. Which brings me onto another point: Practicing reading rhythms and notating just the rhythms without worrying about the notes can be helpful.
Soundslice: Very cool. As it happens, there are some fantastic Konnakkol transcriptions already on Soundslice. Our friends at percuss.io regularly transcribe this style of music.
Soundslice: Last question. Are there any other Soundslice channels you’ve checked out that you’d like to give a shoutout to?
MS: There are so many great ones but, a few of personal favorites are:
Soundslice: All favorites of ours as well! One more “last question.” :) What’s your dream Soundslice feature? It could be something big or small.
MS: It would be cool to have a desktop version of Soundslice so I could transcribe offline. Also, while I’ve got you, if there is a way for me to be able to program it so after (x) amount of bars transcribed it poured me a coffee that would be great. :)
Soundslice: The offline mode might take us a while. But auto-pouring coffee, no problem! :)
Soundslice: Matt, thank you again. We appreciate you taking the time and look forward to more transcriptions of yours in the future! The website’s a better place with you on it.
MS: It really has been my pleasure. Thank you for everything you guys do and the great platform you have created.
Dear reader, we hope you enjoyed our first featured transcriber post! We highly recommend that you follow Matt’s Soundslice channel to get updates of his latest transcriptions. Oh, and if you’re interested in being a future featured transcriber, get in touch with me.