Using Jazz Transcriptions as an Improvisation Language Primer

Photo: In-Service Workshop Clinic at KMEA – Type the words “jazz transcriptions” into the Google search engine and it will return nearly 4 million hits in less than one second.

jazz transcriptions – Google Search

Why is it important to transcribe jazz solos?

There are several benefits to transcribing improvised jazz solos and studying those accurate transcriptions done by others as well.

Transcribing jazz solos by professional improvisers is similar to jazz as learning vocabulary lists is to reading and writing a spoken language.

A Cautionary Note on Learning Solos:

“…it can destroy your development.  It can take years to find yourself because of this. You’ve got to get through all that mess, if you’re lucky, to find yourself.  Kids are practicing and learning Coltrane solos.  What do you want to learn Coltrane’s solo on “Giant Steps” for?  What are you supposed to find out?  To engage and look at it and study it, yes, but to engage in it physically is contaminating yourself.  You start practicing something, and practice don’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.  You start putting things in yourself, and it’s going to take time to get things out of yourself.  You might need a big enema for that.” — Henry Threadgill, BBC Interview with Ethan Iverson

(re-posted from

There are so many choices on the Internet, where do I start?

Here is one of my favorite jazz solo transcriptions websites (and why):

Solo Transcriptions (Sax) – saxopedia
  • This site is a varied repository of jazz stylists and lists 1780 solo transcriptions that are available somewhere on the Internet. The list also includes solos for flute, clarinet and EWI.
  • In addition to saxophone transcriptions it lists transcriptions for other instruments commonly played in modern jazz too.


Find transcriptions by instrument using the menu.

Some Suggestions …

Be methodical in studying transcriptions!
  1. Listen to the transcribed jazz master artist playing the solo.
  2. Use – it is a great resource for all of the jazz music you could listen to in a thousand lifetimes – IT’S FREE to use and the owners of the music do actually get paid a royalty when their music is played.
  3. Example use of YouTube (or any other music service): If you are studying a particular jazz solo transcription, find that artist and rendition on YouTube then study how that master is playing the solo.
  4. Play along with the transcribed artist. You may even want to start by learning the solo phrase-by-phrase.
  5. Imitate that transcribed artist’s jazz style and musical interpretation to begin with toward developing the skills that will inherently make up the different various facets of your own jazz artistry.
  6. If the recording tempo is too fast for you to play along with the artist, use a slow-down app to slow the music down.
  7. Among the most important things to get from studying transcriptions of jazz solos performed by professional improvisers are: (1) experiencing their excellent note choices, (2) hearing the great characteristic sound of their instruments, and (3) learning the jazz style the player is using.

Recommended Listening …

Any of the players on these lists are worth your attention!