…transcribing your favorite songs
Sitting across from me, approximately 1762 miles away (or 29 hours by car), Oleg Maximov fidgets slightly as I pose my questions. It’s clear he is somewhat uncomfortable talking about himself.
I have the pleasure of sitting down with him on the hottest day of the year, separated by most of Europe and a very thick Russian accent, to discuss his career, his passions and what makes him tick.
An accomplished jazz and classical guitarist, Oleg certainly has an impressive CV; holding degrees in two immensely competitive fields (engineering and music) from two first-rate institutions (Don State Technical University and the State Music College of Jazz – for which he had to take exams in mathematics, Russian language and literature as well as the musical elements of the application), playing in a handful of impressive orchestras (Anton Averkin’s Big Band and the Dmitriy Anikeeev and Oleg Maximov Duo to name but a few) and going on to win some pretty incredible awards as well (achieving success at the “Many Faces Guitar” competition for four years running from 2013 to 2016). Oh, and did I mention the album he released in 2014 with pianist Dmitry Anikeev?
Oleg’s beginnings have an air of destiny about them; it was almost impossible for him to have chosen any other lifestyle. His hometown, Rostov-on-Don was the first city in Russia to establish a jazz school. His biggest inspiration was Kim Avedikovich Nazaretov, a band leader in Rostov, whose picture used to hang on the wall in one of the music practice rooms at his secondary school. Unfortunately, it has not been possible for Oleg to arrange a proper meeting without the aid of an Ouija Board.
Nowadays he can be found at his home in Moscow with his wife and cat, who according to Oleg “is truly like a child for us.” He splits his time between practicing guitar and transcribing music, although he does find it occasionally difficult to maintain a “balance” between the two disciplines.
Getting up a 6am, doing some light exercise and drinking a cup of tea, he usually starts work at about 9am. He’ll start the long process of transcribing (it can often take up to three hours for a melody and piano accompaniment, and eight if the song has many instruments). Occasionally he’ll be tasked with producing a full transcription by the end of the day.
“Got any tips for speeding up the process?”, I ask hopefully.
To which he rather bluntly replies “No.”
That said, he recommends using a few apps, which allow him to slow down a music file, making it easier to hear and recognize all the individual notes. Anytune (iOs) and Audacity (for windows and mac) are his favorites.
His interest for transcribing first came to him as a teenager:
“One of the things I had to do as a younger musician was transcribe a lot of music by ear from different artists and different instruments, whether it be saxophone, piano or vocals,” he tells me.
He turned professional, though, when he uploaded all the transcriptions he’d done as a student to his website.
“I don’t know how but a lot of people found them on the Internet and started asking me to make transcriptions for them. Three years later, I’m doing (transcription) as my main profession”. The rest is history.
While the prospect of transcribing music may seem tedious, Oleg recognizes it as a vital part of musicianship. A large part of jazz music is allowing yourself to be inspired by other players, he tells me.
“The best way is to get it by ear. When I hear someone playing a great song (for example Fly Me to the Moon or Autumn Leaves), if they play some great phrases, I’ll transcribe the notes and then learn that idea. This way you can get new ideas from other people. We only have seven notes (in jazz) so it’s hard to create something entirely new.”
As he says this, I’m instantly skeptical, expecting the Russian secret police to burst in and arrest him for plagiarism. My fears of becoming an accessory to crime (and not even a particularly good crime, let’s be honest) dissipate when Oleg further explains himself:
“It’s like learning a language. I’m learning English (though I’m not so good) but right now as I’m talking to you, I’m trying to get some phrases from your speech because you’re a native English speaker. I listen to your speech. Then I take the phrases and add them into my own language. It’s the same thing with jazz. We use melodies played by other players, but we make it in our own way.”
It’s true that music has a history of inspiration and collaboration. Lest we forget the day the world stood still when Lady Gaga and Beyoncé dropped Telephone.
Jazz takes this collaboration a step further:
“You can collaborate not only with some other man in the room on stage with you in this moment, you can collaborate with a lot of other great musicians, who played many years ago.”
Instantly, any shyness carried in his face is cast out by the inspiration in his eyes as he says this.
“Today, I look with interest to the future,” the bio from his website reads. With all his future plans (including a music program in the style of Bossa Nova with vocalist Victoria Klimenko and a three day music course led by some of the best Russian jazz musicians later this month), we do too.
Follow this link to visit Oleg’s website.
To listen to some of Oleg’s performances, check out his YouTube page.
If you’re interested in his transcription services, visit this page.