How to use transcription software to improve your drumming
by Stephen Flinn

Transcription software is a valuable learning tool for any drummer, and it’s often much more fun to work with than a one-dimensional drum book. You see, the software isn’t just intended for putting pencil to paper: today’s software is ideal for play-a-long and analysis purposes.

For example, most drummers like the idea of learning from cds, but often have trouble playing along with the recordings because of the up-tempo nature in which the tracks are recorded. Transcription software enables you to slow down a recording, while adjusting the pitch, and then, if you want, you can export multiple repetitions of a complete song or highlighted selection to an iPod or CD for use in your practice studio.

Practicing a groove or figure at comfortable tempo puts you in a position to learn and play it with relaxation and confidence. This is paramount. Why? Because when you’re practicing in a relaxed and focused manner you’re practicing mastery and not tension. Tension is what you’re practicing when you’re trying to play a grove or figure at a tempo faster than your current level. It’s always best to play whatever you’re practicing in a relaxed manner, because this creates a positive spillover into every musical situation you’ll find yourself. This also applies to slow selections, which may create trouble. If a groove is too slow for you to play with mastery, speed it up to where you can learn it with relaxation and mastery and then go back and slow it back down to its initial recorded tempo.

Two of the most utilized transcription software products on the market are Transcribe (Mac) and Riffster (PC). Free trial versions of the software can be found at After downloading and installing the software, you’ll find the processes of adjusting the pitch, tempo, and exporting the music to a CD or iPod to be fairly intuitive. 

It’s important to adjust the tempo to a setting that will allow you to clearly understand the figures you’ll be asked to play. Start slowly and then gradually adjust the temp to where you see fit. After you become proficient, steadily increase the tempo until you can play the selection in real-time. You’ll find that by practicing slowly and then gradually increasing the tempo, you’ll play the music with much more confidence, relaxation, and conviction.

Another feature of this process is that you can highlight a specific section of a tune that is giving you trouble, and work on that section exclusively. You can even loop it and listen to it over and over while resting. Slowing a figure or pattern way down increases your ability to really hear how the instruments of the drum kit are interrelating. And, by listening to something in a repetitive way, it really hammers the sounds into your head and body, which is where you want the music. You can have great chops, but if you don’t have the music in your mind, body, and soul, the chops are useless and unmusical.

Stephen Flinn can be reached at

Stephen Flinn is a postmodern improviser, drummer, and percussionist who has performed throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States with many notable internationally recognized musicians. In addition, in 2006 he conducted a national solo percussion tour of the United States, and released a solo CD, (Architect of Adversity), of spontaneous percussion improvisations on the esteemed Creative Sources label. He is based out of Scottsdale, Arizona where he operates a thriving teaching practice and recording studio. Visit his website at