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  1. #1

    Default How to Transcribe Music!

    We'll I'm a bit new to piano sort of and I was wondering how most of the people here learn how to transcribe their music sheets. I want to learn how to learn how so I wont have to depend on others to be able to play a song.

    So everyone please post:
    (1) How did you start transcribing?
    (2) How did you learn?
    (3) Tips on transcribing.

    -Thanks for reading and this is a helpful thread for people who also wants to learn, such as me. I also would like to thank brncao, a member of this forum, for giving me this idea. :] Ty brncao!

  2. #2


    1. Through inspiration from other transcribers. It all started with Gori Fater's Sonic the Hedgehog piano video. I was truly amazed because there were absolutely no sheets for those. I downloaded the sheets and played them. Half a year later I decided to transcribe and arrange my own songs.

    I'll combine #2 and #3 because it's essentially the same; the tips will be based on my own experience how I learned to transcribe. I'll write a lesson for those new to transcribing by ear. Maybe it'll cut down on the number of requesters

    So you've finally dipped your toes into the water. Where should you start?
    The first thing I recommend everyone to do first is to learn basic music theory. The term "Music theory" might frighten some beginners, but it's really straight forward. If you've learned how to read sheet music then you can skip this step.
    You'll need to be able to understand and read sheet music if you're planning on playing it on your instrument right? Here's a great website that teaches music theory.

    For beginners, click on the "Lessons" drop down box and read from "The Staff, Clefs, and ledger lines" to "Key Signatures." These are just the basics needed to read sheet music. The only hard part is the major and minor scales. A beginner might ask what's the difference? To put it in layman's term, major sounds happy and minor sounds sad and emotional.
    Now that you can read sheet music, read on!

    The things that you'll need:

    Headphones (I don't recommend transcribing off of computer speakers or ibuds for that matter). I'm saving up for an upgrade to my crappy audio rig for a better transcribing experience. If you're a detail freak and care so much for accuracy, you may be an audiophile like I am I must warn you though this stuff is hard to quit lol. I can't stand youtube sound quality even at 128Kb HD. It's a burden I have to live with lmao. All in all, the better your audio chain is, the better sound reproduction and accuracy you'll get.

    Instrument (vocal counts too)

    Audio editing program (ei. Audacity [freeware], Adobe Audition) to play your favorite songs. I use Adobe Audition.

    Score notation software (ei. Sibelius or Finale) to arrange sheet music. I use Finale.

    Audio recognition program (my personal favorite is Widi Professional) for converting pitch to midi notes in a graphical piano roll display that shows bars. Don't worry about the trial. You can still use it for the purpose of transcribing even after it expires.
    Note: I'll only talk about the programs I use because I don't know how to use any other programs beside the ones I'm using so I'm sorry for this inconvenience. Who knows, maybe it could apply to others, maybe not.

    Choose a very easy song to practice with. Open it up in Adobe Audition. Put on your headphones and have an instrument next to you so you can locate the pitch and what not. If you can hum the melody or at least in your mind if you're a bad singer like I am, you have good relative pitch, and that is all you'll need.

    Open Finale. You'll need to enter the time signature, key signature, and tempo at the end of the setup wizard. I recommend choosing a song that is either in 3/4 or 4/4 for a beginner.

    To find the correct tempo in a song there is a bpm plugin for winamp that measures the tempo. However, this only works if there is a strong beat and can sometimes be inaccurate. You can also try to find it manually through trial and error. I use Adobe Audition for the job.

    Down below right click on the Time Panel (borders highlighted in yellow) and select Bars and Beats. Place the cursor (vertical dotted yellow line) on the first beat in the main display. Right click the time panel again and select Edit Tempo. A dialogue box pops up as shown in the image. Click "Reset 1:1 to cursor." Next (if necessary) set the time signature: Beats per Bar / Beat Length = 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, etc.

    Experiment with Beats per Minute until the beats line up with what you're hearing. You'll need to wait about 32+ measures to ensure it really lines up all the way. The song in the pic is exactly 130bpm. Enter the tempo in the score settings in Finale.

    Next is the hard part, finding the key signature. There are two ways you can find it: Play the melody on the piano and see which black keys are used often or use an audio recognition software like Widi Pro. There are other methods as well such as using figured bass, chords, and scales, but I won't be covering it in this lesson because it's not beginner friendly.

    Open the song in Widi Pro through the wizard and let it analyze the song (it'll take some time). You'll get something like this

    The first one is the recommended key signature (In case you're wondering the "H" is the same as "B"). And remember, happy is "Maj" and sad is "m". If you want to double check it, play the melody on your piano for the most often used black keys. Ok just so no one flames me for saying "black keys", when you come across a key that has Cb, Fb, E#, and/or B# in it, it's not really a black key but a white key. For now lets pretend it's a black key.

    If you hate reading B notes as H you can change it by going to Options > General Options -> under the Misc tab select use letter B for note 'si'.

    This is a simple 8bit song from Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening - "Mabe Village". I recommend starting your first song on 8bit video games because it's very easy. Press Ctrl+Shift+A to switch to audio mode. Midi mode is useless as it sounds like one big blob.

    Now let's start transcribing!!!

    Note: Before you start killing your ears over nothing, stay away from youtube including ripping music from youtube. That is a bad source to transcribe from. Go and find a high quality mp3 (at least 192kbps), flac, wav, ape, etc.

    The first thing you should do is transcribe the melody because it's what stands out the most in a song. Then the bass, then the chords, and lastly whatever else there are. You can do it in any particular order you want, it's just my preference.

    Transcribing for note durations. If you know your rhythms very well, even odd ones, you can skip this step.
    Break it down first. Do not try to transcribe over several measures. My advice is to break it down to one beat or divide the beat into several subdivisions. Let's look at the Zelda example above. How many notes are there in one beat? Well lets find out. I counted only 1 note in the first beat, therefore it is a quarter note. The next beat only has one note that extends over one beat, and it is also a quarter note. The last two notes "B and C" in measure 1 is fast. So divide your quarter beats into 8th beats. B started exactly on the 8th beat and I counted 2 notes within this beat so therefore they are 16th notes. You can experiment it in Finale to check if you're right.

    The notes below the melody are 8th notes because I counted 2 notes in one beat.

    If you hear 3 notes distributed evenly in one beat, it is a triplet.
    Transcribing for pitch. If you have "perfect pitch" you may skip this step.
    Widi Pro has already done the job for you! It's just a matter of copying what you see and entering it in Finale. Remember to use your ears! Do NOT rely on the software and blindly enter every note you see in Widi into Finale. Trust your ears. There are times when Widi Pro is unreliable for complex songs. It's time for a little ear training.

    Grab your instrument, your ears, your headphones, and have the song ready in Adobe Audition. Play the first beat of the song in Adobe. Take an "aural snapshot" of what you've heard. Find the notes on your instrument. Keep playing the first beat over and over until you have it down. Arrange it into Finale. Move on to the next beat, etc.
    Target Lock on!
    Good aural honing skills is key to transcribing, and this takes weeks, months, or years to build up. Don't listen to music as a whole, but lock your ears in on one instrument at a time. For example, an oboe might blend in with other strings. You probably recognize an oboe's sound characteristics or timbre so you should only focus on that, not on the strings. If you try to focus in on more than one instrument, you'll be lost in the transcription process. My advice is to break it down by layer first.

    Don't forget to transcribe in a quiet environment
    Understand what the limitations are
    If you're dealing with acoustic instruments, be aware of their limitations such as pitch range and our physical limitations. NES 8bit music has a limit of 3 channels (excluding noise channel) which is 2 squares and 1 triangle wave. In Widi Pro if you struck a chord on a piano, the overtones will carry over into the higher frequency making it seem like the person had 4 hands. Just keep in mind humans don't have 4 hands nor can we stretch a 15th with one hand (comfortably that is)

    Making your life easier with Adobe Audition!

    One special tool that I often use is the "center channel extraction." This removes the center channel leaving you only the left and right channel so you can transcribe the song a bit more clearly.

    Use EQ to boost certain band frequencies.

    You can even slow down the song.

    You can also raise the pitch to hear the bass clearly.

    Adobe Audition is a great software for manipulating audio.
    End of lesson! Lesson 2 will be a bit more technical on music theory that involves chords. For now just do bass and melody. And remember to ask questions!
    Last edited by brncao; September 25th, 2009 at 01:55 am.

  3. #3


    Now I will discuss a little bit about chord progressions (the basics). It's basically how harmonies or chords change from one chord to the next, in what order. People can feel this change subconsciously, but they don't know that it's actually called a "chord progression."

    If you look at some music theory books or guides, you'll come across roman numerals like I, II, III...VII both in upper case and lower case. Uppercase are major chords and minor are lower case. Play a C major chord (C,E,G) and a C minor chord (C,Eb,G) and you'll notice one sounds happy and the other sounds sadder respectively.

    Shown here is a basic chord progression of a C major scale. It's like playing triads up the scale, which it is. The degree sign in vii° means it's a diminished chord or for short "dim". I'll only be covering maj and min chords for beginners.

    For this demonstration, I'll use "Houki Boshi" (Bleach ED2) as my example. Originally it's in D major, but with chord progressions, it doesn't matter what key you're in. You can also check out my "crappy Houki Boshi Caramelldansen" remix in the composition section to see chord progressions in action (I practically overlapped the two because both songs had the same chord progressions).

    The chord progression for Houki Boshi is I, V, vi, and IV, and it uses this chord progression all the way till the end if my memory serves me right. Look at the chart above and find those roman numerals. Answer: In this case it's Cmaj, Gmaj, Amin, and then Fmaj "in that order". Now that you've learned basic chord progression, let's move on to "figured bass."

    Figured bass sometimes helps whenever you want to figure out simple triads. It draws sort of an implied harmony. If you look at the bass in Houki Boshi (let's assume it was in C major) you will see C, G, A, F in each measure respectively. At this point you don't know what the chords are. Look at the bass notes in the bass staff. Try building a chord around a single bass note. For C it would be Cmaj, for G it would be Gmaj, etc. So in the end you have Cmaj, Gmaj, Amin, and Fmaj. There are songs that have more complex chord progressions, but for now it's better if you train your ears first before attempting the more complex ones.

    Over time you'll be able to familiarize yourself with common chord progressions that you don't have to resort to using widi pro to figure out the song's chord progressions.

    Well that's all I can teach you guys. Everything else is mostly ear training. If you want to go even more advanced into music theory, then it's better if you consult a music teacher or something.
    Last edited by brncao; August 22nd, 2009 at 08:47 pm.

  4. #4
    gitah-ist Member Lelangir's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    East coast USA


    Somehow I started playing jazz then ended up in j-pop, so my ears have probably atrophied quite a bit, jazz melodies being infinitely more complex than those of j-pop.

    I do it by ear, and the more you transcribe, the easier it will be to instantly recognize basic (ubiquitous) chord progressions, rhythms and intervals.

    I don't know if you need all the software the previous poster used. It would certainly make the process easier...but no pain, no gain, as they say. On the other hand, you could just buy some real physical sheet music and do it the old fashioned way. For actually creating electronic files to share on the internet, however, I use lilypond. It's free, but probably takes around 4 hours to get a firm grasp of the syntax. I still refer back to the guide when confronted with difficulties, however. Here's an example of lilypond in action.

  5. #5
    Instrumental Transcriber~ Member AeroBozu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2008


    WOW, GREAT INFORMATION!, This will help me A L O T.

    Boredom is a virtue..... eh?

    Contact via aim.
    Screen name: AeroTranscriber

    For now, requests should be made via aim only. If I have time I may check on the website forums, though chances are slim.

  6. #6


    Another audio recognition program worth trying is Intelliscore. It also helps to transcribe music by converting audio to midi notes and it costs a LOT less that Widi. With Widi Professional charging $229 that is too steep for me!

  7. #7
    Mercenary Shinigami Member Giles's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007


    1) I started transcribing a while ago. I was in situations where I could not find the right sheet music, so I decided to make my own lol.

    2) Music classes help you learn a lot, as well as basic knowledge of music theory (pitch, note durations, time signatures, etc) So if you know those things, you won't have a hard time trying to transcribe.

    3) I just have my keyboard with me at all times when transcribing. As well as wearing headphones. You just can't hear everything from computer speakers. But you don't necessarily need all the high tech stuff in the first reply, IMO.

    ALL YOU NEED IS HEADPHONES, A KEYBOARD, AND A SHEET MUSIC NOTATION HUB (Finale, or even plain old manuscript paper) And, of course, PATIENCE.

  8. #8


    I wish everyone would follow in your footsteps lol. Way to go! :thumbsup: Right, you need to be patient and dedicated. What's nice about transcribing is that you hear things you've never heard before. An average joe will only hear the melody and don't pay attention to everything else (though they do hear it subconsciously).

    "If nobody takes your request in ages, then transcribe it!" as I always say.

    You don't need the high-end stuff to be super analytical, but that's just me being an audiophile

  9. #9
    Mercenary Shinigami Member Giles's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007


    lol i thought so

  10. #10


    Honestly, I just play it over and over until it soundsright, eventually write down the key notes, then get out my notation program and work it until the notes sound right in both length and tone.
    In short, I start with hit and miss guessing, then move on to trying. On my flute. Which I'll assume is different than piano in difficulty.

  11. #11



    What an useful POST you got there BRNCAO! you got consideration in the begginers that don't know anything like me


  12. #12
    Mageknight Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2008


    Very detailed guide.

    I transcribe in front of my piano, with my earphones and my MP3 player. Yeah. Hey, it works, and that's all that really matters. You really don't need high-end equipment, just a high-quality song. Maybe some good bass headphones. But that's pretty much it. Abuse the equalizer to get the really low notes.

    I like WIDI, but it's so unreliable for anything other than pure piano that it's practically useless. You may as well just listen to teh song (or you can use a program to drop the vocal part if there's a vocal part in the song; it helps a lot). Actually, another way to drop the vocal is, on your mp3 player, to unplug the headphones a bit, so the volume drops ever so slightly. You'll also hear that anything on both tracks (this works only on stereo tracks) is dropped, which is usually vocal :>

    Play one bar or phrase over and over again on your mp3, in front of your instrument. It is imperative that you're doing this in front of your instrument, unless you're writing for multiple instruments. Then, with each repeat, try to pick out notes and play them, and eventually you'll get all the notes in a bar. Rinse and repeat. (Well, that's how I do it) It's a pretty time-consuming task, but you basically memorize your transcription. Then, you just have to feed it into Finale or something and print it, or do it physically (lol).

    If you're new to piano, you really want to learn music theory, as the first poster said. It's essential to writing it, and it really helps during the listening process. So does a lot of experience. I have perfect pitch, but I really don't know if I always had it or if it was trained into me. Of course, it doesn't really matter if you have perfect pitch, because you're in front of your instrument anyways.


  13. #13
    Mushyrulez's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Vancouver, Canada


    Hahaha, open this up in WIDI:

    (Don't worry, it's not a spam/pirate link)

    Anyways, after analyzing it as piano, play it

    Heh, epic example of the fail of WIDI when it's not pure piano. When it is pure piano though...

  14. #14
    Play, transcribe, piano Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009


    Impressive guide. For me, I just grab my iPod and transcribe as I go. Getting the sheet out is another matter, because I'm usually too lazy to start up the program and get on to inputting notes. And since I do only piano or virtually any song that is mainly piano and has no singing, the scores won't really matter in the end.

    Unless someone wants it, that is.

  15. #15
    Δεν μίσος. εξαφανίσει. Member Omorose Panya's Avatar
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    Nov 2009


    Holy hell. What an explanation!
    I really only had enough time to read to and try it out a little. I just wanted to say that that is a superb website! I am trying to help my friend play the piano but I want her to know the basics first. Not having the most amount of time and the world and not knowing how to explain everything plainly makes it difficult, but this website might just be the solution! Thanks!

    I look forward to reading the rest of your replies but I must go.

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