As a little tribute to the late Dave Brubeck here’s a transcription of Paul Desmond’s sax solo on ‘Take Five’.

Transcription here: Take Five solo (concert)

This was actually my first proper non-bass transcription, given to me as an assignment during a lesson with the great arranger/producer/guitarist/educator Richard Niles. If you haven’t heard of Richard then seek out his work – he not only possesses a terrifying amount of musical knowledge but also has a wonderful sense of humour.

Transcribing material that wasn’t originally played on your own instrument is a great way of expanding your musical horizons and often helps to generate fresh ideas for improvisation. When playing through this transcription, you might find that certain notes are outside of the range of your instrument and therefore certain phrases need to be octave transposed.

This process of arranging music played by non-bass instruments on a bass is valuable in a number of ways:

  • Phrases that are easily played on a saxophone (or piano/trumpet/guitar etc.) might not fit comfortably under your fingers on the bass. This helps to not only develop your technique but helps you stop reverting back to the same old licks when the time comes for you to solo.
  • While dissecting the solo, certain phrases might jump out at you. Use these to build new vocabulary for the bass. Work out a few different fingerings for the phrase and play it through all keys (you may want to alter the rhythmic content and retain the melody, or vice versa).
  • Examining improvisations from other instruments gives a unique insight into how different players approach improvising over chord changes. Using material that comes from a ‘non-bass’ perspective is hugely beneficial in developing your own personal voice on your instrument (a horribly clichéd phrase, but true nonetheless).

Why bother transcribing other instruments?

So, why not just focus on bass? I spent a lot of time during my teens learning licks and solos from Marcus Miller – I remember hearing listening to his M2 album and instantly being drawn towards his tone and phrasing. I wanted to sound exactly like him. During my first year at music college I got hold of a transcription of Marcus’ intro solo and slap line on David Sanborn’s ‘Run For Cover’:

I proceeded to spend my Christmas holiday that year shedding it like crazy. I loved playing it. Soon enough everything I played was beginning to sound like a budget version of Marcus. Classmates started to nickname me ‘mini-Marcus’. I’d listen back to recordings from gigs and cringe at what I’d played (important note: this never stops…). Having spent so long trying to get his ideas into my playing I’d lost sight of working on what I sounded like.

So I entered slap-bass rehab: I banned myself from listening to Marcus for a few years and tried to eliminate all traces of him from my playing. I went on a crusade to transcribe as many solos as I could with only one rule in mind: I couldn’t transcribe bass solos. Transcribing solos from other instruments helped to open my ears to all sorts of things I’d never thought of playing on a bass before, all of which suddenly seemed more interesting than chasing after another bassist’s sound.

This post is not meant as a slight towards Marcus Miller or anyone that wants to emulate any part of his playing (or that of any other bassist). For me the act of focusing all of my attention on one particular bassist had a detrimental effect on my musical development.

(Confession time: I listened to Marcus for the first time in years while writing this post and I loved it. He’s a monster. Still won’t be getting my thumb out on any gigs in the near future though…)