Writing music – Learn by doing

I stumbled across an absolute gem the other day while throwing out (and sometimes scanning to .pdf) a massive amount of old music that I haven’t touched in a long, long time.

Here it is…


A 9-year old’s attempt at transcribing the Hogan’s Heroes theme tune.

That, is a 9 year old’s attempt at transcribing the Hogan’s Heroes theme tune. Being an 80s child, we still had classics like Hogan’s Heroes being played on TV while growing up; a slapstick WWII show like that fell right into my interests at the time (it was a lot better than Ain’t Half Hot Mum and maybe just a bit better than ‘Allo! ‘Allo!)

That youthful transcription is a great example of getting it kind of right but being oh so very wrong at the same time.

Just ignore the fact that the title is spelt wrong (yet notice the apostrophe? Nice). Here’s a little list of mistakes up to the end of the first phrase.

  • Treble clef is wayward.
  • The time signature has become a fraction.
  • In the 2nd bar it rhythmically goes to the pieces. All the notes are correct but it should be be a dotted quaver, semi quaver, quaver, quaver, minim (all finished in the second bar).
  • It seems by the next line that the rhythm has become so confused that the bar lines were forgotten about. Memorising of the tune has allowed me to play it.

But really, the important part is that my 9 year old self gave it a shot. I probably took this piece of paper busking with me outside the liquor store in Kumeu that time (I made about NZ $60 in one hour in 1995! That’s a lot of cash for a 9 year old).

Transcribing music is not easy so it’s a good idea to expose students to the exercise at some point. I like to grab a piece of music such as a pop song that they know, play the youtube video first (‘oh, yeah, that song’) and go from there. It’s damn hard so this is how I break it down.

  • If they’re not really shy, I ask them to sing/hum back the first few bars.
  • If the notes are really hard to find on the instrument, we stick with just rhythms.
  • If writing the rhythms down on manuscript is difficult, we try clapping first.
  • If the pitch is difficult, I’ll play it on my clarinet and try and get them to mimic me (it reduces the ‘noise’ of a full recording when just playing on my instrument).

Rhythm is really the most important thing to appreciate. Pitch is hard (we’ll, it is for me). I completely destroyed a cassette tape by constantly rewinding and playing it because I couldn’t get my brain to appreciate the pitch. I could whistle it back but just trying to find the associated notes on the clarinet. Grrr. I still struggle with it after all these years. Not enough practise. I know I’ve contradicted myself here because in the above transcription, I’ve got the pitch right but rhythm wrong. As a learning exercise though, rhythm should trump pitch during a class (the student can figure out the pitch at home).

It’s worth noting that my 9 year old self didn’t try and write out the Hogan’s Heroes theme at the behest of my teacher; I did it because I wanted to. I couldn’t even say that my teacher empowered me to do so. I probably didn’t even take it to a lesson, which is why it’s still full of mistakes.

It’s great when students do things like this out of their own initiative but sometimes exposure and a little nudge (encouragement) is required to move them beyond just playing music and expand into creating music.



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