Writing Assignment: Write A Transcription Of Birdsong

by Randy Murray on May 30, 2014

Birdy, birdy, birdy, birdy.

Here, here, here, here!

Burr wheat wheat wheat wheat.

With the window open on a fine Spring day there’s a grand conversation going on out there. I don’t understand it, but I can appreciate the music, the intention, and the intensity. They are busy at something. Some sing for pleasure, but if I listen, if I watch, it’s clear that it’s not just song, but communication.

I’m here. Get away from me. I’m pretty and would make a good mate. There’s that damn cat again. Owl!

Many writers struggle with describing things. Lots of things. Things like the sounds that birds make. It can be very difficult to imitate those sounds using words alone, let alone find meaning and message in those passing chirps. Some may resort to simile and metaphor. Some may simply identify the specific bird species and expect the reader to know or find the call on their own.

“I heard the call of the emberiza citrinella.”

That makes the reader do the work. It’s specific, but not terribly helpful.

Making a transcription of a bird call lets the writer exercise both observation and imagination. What does it sound like? Can you put it in words? Don’t try and tell me something else it might sound like. Just describe it. Transcribe it. Think hard and tell me what you hear.

For today’s assignment, open your window or go outside and listen for birds and their calls.*

Listen carefully. What words come to mind when you hear these sounds. Don’t look for meaning, just listen.

Reet! Reeeeet!

Some might not even be proper words, but like my example above, they are pronounceable. Listen. Record. Say them aloud. Perfect them. Listen for the number of repetitions, the variations.

Birdsong transcription is an excellent notation to add to your pocket notebook or journal. Bonus points for transcribing other sounds and noises.



*If you are not able to hear live birds calling, the internet if full of recordings. But I prefer live examples for this assignment.


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