A 20-Year-Old Transcriber Is Turning Sheet Music Into Hot Content

For some budding musicians (and even old pros), the very sight of sheet music can elicit a fight-or-flight response, bringing up painful memories of strict piano teachers and high-pressure recitals. George Collier, a 20-year-old music transcriber, is doing his part to change that.

Collier, a student at Warwick University in the United Kingdom, takes snippets of videos from live performances by well-known artists like Wynton Marsalis and Celine Dion, or bedroom musicians who’ve posted clips online, and adds detailed directions for what’s being played. Juggling harmony, melody and rhythm, he turns sounds into wildly detailed notations and shares the results with an audience of over 882,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, where his most popular videos have between 5 million and 18 million views.

“Music can be a bit uptight, particularly in the whole music theory land,” Collier said during a break between lectures, as he video chatted from a light-filled campus building where the sounds of bustling university life swirled around him. In his videos, made with the help of a team of transcribers, he deciphers mesmerizing cadenzas, barbershop quartet arrangements, funk jams and jazz solos in an entertaining way that softens sheet music’s reputation as something academic and unforgiving.

His video “When You Make the Trombone SING” takes on a soaring trombone solo by Frank Lacy from a performance in 1988 with the Art Blakey Big Band. Another clip, titled “She Practiced 40 Hours a Day for This,” captures a virtuosic Mozart piano cadenza by Mitsuko Uchida. While Collier specializes in jazz, he also showcases performances from the classical world, as well as everyday people with impressive talents. A clip titled “When Your Family Is Musically Competent” features a version of “Happy Birthday” that turns into improvised gospel-laden riffing. His video “Pro Musician Jams With Street Performer on Subway” notates a saxophonist on the London Underground as he spontaneously engages a guitarist in a version of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

“The transcriptions are to understand the musical decisions made by performers,” Collier said. “It doesn’t really matter how famous you are. If you make good stuff, then people are going to want to listen.”

Because he’s navigating full-time university student life, Collier works with transcribers from the United States, Germany and beyond to keep his channel uploading consistently.Credit…Alice Zoo for The New York Times

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