DALE TURNER, the former West Coast editor for the now defunct Guitar One Magazine (from 1996-2007) is featured in an in-depth interview with Ultimate-Guitar.com. He discusses his new book, Power Plucking - A Rocker's Guide To Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar, and his career as a transcriber for guitar. An excerpt is available below.
Q: Is there anybody specifically credited with putting together the first guitar transcription?
Turner: "I'm pretty sure, as far as how guitar notation became refined and eventually standardized—for rock styles, involving bends, pinch, tapped, and plucked harmonics, vibrato bar usage, tapping stuff, etc.—it owes a huge debt to the early 1980s efforts of Wolf Marshall and Andy Aledort. Those guys were actually a big inspiration to me. I really was amazed, back then, how someone could hear a recording, figure out all the parts, and actually have the skill to notate it all. That inspiration put me on the path to becoming 'literate' musically. That, in turn, opened up a massive world to me."
Q: I personally remember back in the '80s Guitar World was one of the first places I saw a guitar solo transcribed and then I came across a series of books by Dr. Licks…
Turner: "A lot of the pre-1980 Guitar Player magazines had lessons with notation. But I remember ordering a bunch of cassette based "licks" lessons back then, which came with tiny books of strange pre-guitar magazine notation/TAB in them called the Star Guitar instructional series. At least that's the one I got into. For notation, they had a standard five line staff for pitch and rhythm, then directly beneath, they'd use fractions: 2/15 would mean "second string, 15th fret." Interestingly, slides, bends, vibrato, and tremolo picking were notated much the same way they are now."
Q: How does one become a transcriber?
Turner: "First off, you got to really want to do it. There is much more involved that just "figuring things out by ear”. But you first need to really like doing that, and be good at it first; I always liked figuring stuff out by ear since I started playing. You also need to actually enjoy writing the stuff down. As I was learning how to notate stuff, I really liked doing that—because then I could see the stuff I was studying, analyze it all right on paper, write down each note's interval relationship to the chord of the moment, etc.
So, assuming you enjoy figuring things out and writing them down, and you actually learn how to do that, the next thing is grappling with all the other things that are involved. And not everyone has the patience, discipline, and detail oriented nature to do that. For instance, every publishing company that prints note-for-note guitar anthologies of popular music includes all lead and background vocal parts, guitars (in standard notation and tablature), and sometimes other instruments (mandolin, banjo, piano, bass, or saxophone—arranged for guitar) in their publications, which you'd have to transcribe. The song's lyrics also need to be written out below the transcribed vocal melody, written in direct accordance to the way they are syllabically hy-phen-at-ed in a dictionary. This means you will need to look up some words. Also, all capitalized letters need to be underlined in red pencil, squiggly lines under italicized words, "b.f." for bold-faced, and other details like that.
You also need to understand song form—labeling things with section headings like 1st Verse, Pre-chorus, Chorus, Interlude, Guitar Solo, Bridge, etc., determining their order, and presenting them in an easy to follow layout with repeats, D.S. or D.C. al Coda instructions, and so on. Early on in a transcriber's career, this "arranging" stage can be one of the most frustrating—trying to organize a tune on paper in a "user-friendly" manner while keeping the page count to a minimum to save the publishing company in printing/transcribing costs (transcriber/arrangers are paid by the printed page). Once you've made those arranging decisions, you start figuring out all the guitar parts, but also need to use text-based shortcuts to recall figures—like Rhy. Fig. 1, Riff A, etc.—whenever possible. Like anything else, with practice, this process gets faster. But you can't just write out a song from beginning to end. Nobody would be able to follow it, it'd kill a million trees' worth of paper, and no books would get made."
Go to this location for the complete interview.