How long should it take to learn a song?

For the first time, I’m learning to play a song by ear. All the songs I’ve learned in the past have either been from a printed score, or by improvising on the chords. What I’m working on now is a rather complex song, and I am enjoying the challenge. I’m basically duplicating the original bassline.

Yesterday I worked on it for a few hours. Today, I spent 6 hours (minus a few breaks) on it. I’m using Transcribe and doing a bar or two at a time while creating the musical score with Crescendo. Back and forth between laptop, virtual piano, and bass as I get one bar after another nailed. It’s tedious work, but kind of fun.
I finally quit for the day and recorded what was on the sheet (and had practiced extensively). The recording came out rather decent, so I’m pleased with my accomplishment. But I was astonished when I saw that my 8 hours of working on this song, only resulted in a 36 second recording.
Is this normal?
Back to work tomorrow!


This is going to depend on the song. What song is it?

Other than that the best folks to weigh in on it are probably the teachers here. What say you @JoshFossgreen and @Gio?


Hail @PamPurrs, as you foray off on yet another of your bold bass adventures.

There is no normal for transcription.

Having said that - I’ll use language analogy, so bear with me.
If you’re not a native speaker, or you’re not fluent, transcribing a news broadcast would be extremely time consuming and challenging.
The practice of transcribing itself is an art and practice and takes time to develop and get fast no matter what your level is.
I’d suggest starting with simple and repetitive pieces and familiar pieces.
If you can match your material to your level, you should see much material for the time investment.
I’m fairly quick at it, depending on the song.
I think I’m fairly quick, until Josh jumps into the ring.

I got some very good advice in college as we prepped a solo-trascription project, and I still think of it when I go to work on a piece (when it applies, or when I have time for it to apply).
Whatever you want to transcribe - listen to it so much that you can sing it without the recording. Know it as deeply as you can before you try and transcribe it.
It helps quite a bit, and can relieve a bit of the tedium of working note to note, bar to bar.

This is a huge topic and the answers are going to be various shades of “it depends on…”
but that advice has been great for me.
For projects where I don’t have time to invest in the 10 - 50 listens to get it deep into my grey matter, it at least reminds me that the listening and singing is more important than pinpointing the next note.

Open and excited for any and all other questions related to this.



I hope nobody beats me to it.


Wow tough to copy… I would have just got the groove, the notes/chords, memorized a few of the runs and fills then just played it with my own spin. Kudos to you for doing the hard yards but I would have put it in the “to copy completely is not worth it when I can do my own thing which know one will ever know is different” basket.


That’s what I have been doing on other covers, but I’m pushing myself into another learning dimension by doing it this way. It’s part of my ear training as well as doing a cover.


The main reason I say that is because to me it sounds like the bass player on that track is just kind of jamming with it. I may be completely wrong but it just feels like he plays whatever he feels like that fits. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bass line but it just feels like improvisation rather than structured lines so it’s a big call to go to so much effort to do a direct copy when you could do your own improv that could be just as good.
Totally valid point about the ear training and learning dimension too though.


Sorry, I linked the wrong youtube video…

It’s this NOT this… that’s on my list but I haven’t started on it yet.


Morning Pam,
There are too many variables to properly answer that question. How difficult is the song?, How accurate do you want to be?, What’s your playing ability?, How good is your ear?. How much time can you devote? Are you under pressure?
In the end all I would say is that it takes as long as it takes.


LOL… that changes everything I said… Goodluck Pam, I’m sure with the time you’re putting in you’ll have it perfect soon.


I can say that I’m very new, so it takes me a very long time to learn a section. If you’re pleased with the results after recording, then you sound like you are definitely pretty far along.

Great job!


I agree with this and everything else Gio said!

Ha! :stuck_out_tongue:

This is what I’d most emphasize - if you pick something on the harder side, and you’re totally new to transcribing, it’s gonna take ages, as you’re simultaneously learning:

  • How to use your notation software
  • How to transcribe rhythms + notate them
  • How to pick a bass line out of a mix
  • Where to put the bass notes on the staff
  • Probably more things

So I always push people to learn really really easy stuff. Even just transcribing children’s melodies, or Christmas tunes, or whatever is super familiar / in your head already, is a good way to work some of those skills without having to deal with all of them at once.

But good for you, putting in the work @PamPurrs! The more you do it, the faster you get.

Last thing I’ll say - forgive yourself for mistakes. You absolutely will not create a 100% perfect transcription on this go around, I promise. I still look at charts I made a few years ago (over a decade of transcribing experience at the time) and see things I’d improve now with my new level of ear training hipness. The journey never ends!


6 hours of work on it today (with many breaks), and I managed to get up to 1:14 of perfection. That’s 38 seconds of work today (added to the 36 seconds I accomplished over the weekend).
I feel like I’m slowly getting better at this, and it’s going a bit faster.

The bad thing is, this is taking me away from my normal practice routine… or is this considered practice? @JoshFossgreen @gio?


It’s the BEST kind of practice.
Definitely counts.
But… won’t help you at all with your technique or chops!.. until you’re practicing all the sweet licks you just transcribed.


Ok I’m no great shake in the bass world. My hearing ain’t that great…but what I have found is that I can pick something out by ear an active up… In other words I have a Squire Tele that I figure things out by ear with I can match an octave up better than I match a plucked note out of a mix. Being off by how ever little becomes apparent better for me when it has to harmonize rather than match. If you get my drift. Sharps and flats become so damned obvious it aint funny. Try it. With age comes hearing loss and when you have the rest of the mix going on and the bass line is not in your face, going up an active makes a difference…at least to me
Yes I could go up an octave on the bass, but the intensity of a Tele, even a Squire Affinity, makes a sharp or flat mis match so obvious to my old ruined ears it aint funny…now if they just made a 4 string tele with the same string spacing…


That’s how I originally learned to play bass back in 1969. I learned how to play every song on the Grand Funk Railroad “Closer To Home” album.


Why not just download the TAB for “Still got the blues” ?


First off, I don’t play tab.

More to the point, if you read my original post, I stated I’m working on ear training, and learning this song by ear is part of that process.


Everyone will have a slightly different path to learning. That is for certain. Personally, I use every available option dependent upon what the goals and time restrictions are.
Honestly, I prefer to use standard notation as much as possible. But if I am in a rush and need to have a song ready quickly, I will use tab. It’s just another tool at our disposal.
Ear training is a long journey, but as we practice, it gets better and quicker. Some people are naturals. I’m certainly not that person. It is worth the time and dedication.


Keep on rockin @PamPurrs.