Music transcription software

I’ve long wanted an MP3 player that would let me slow down the music without changing pitch, easily fast forward and backward, loop a particular section, as well as change pitch—in other words, all the things you need when transcribing music from recordings. Well, it wasn’t until today that it dawned on me that I shouldn’t look for a hardware device, but a piece of software. I was still stuck in the mental model of my old Sony Professional Walkman without realizing it.

So I went on a hunt for software to match my spec, and found two: Amazing Slow Downer, and Transcribe!. They both fit the bill, but they’re also both fairly expensive ($45) compared with most of the shareware I buy (typically $15-$25), and they feature pretty clunky, un-attractive interfaces.

The ASD has very detailed control over speed, which I guess you really don’t need, whereas Transcribe! just offers half and 25%. But ASD also lets you set the loop boundaries with input boxes, which I find superior to the detailed mouse maneuvering required with Transcribe!

But the big thing that Transcribe! has going for it is the graph that shows you the music visually, making it easier to navigate the song. And I guess the on-screen keyboard can be really useful if you want to do some quick work without moving over to the piano. So I guess Transcribe! has the edge.

But why the ugly interface? I find that fascinating, and a turn-off at the same time. On the Mac, I’m spoiled, with great-looking user interfaces. What’s up with that?

Of course, since I’m not given an alternative, I’ll just have to live with it. But it’s interesting, if not surprising, how once you move out of the mainstream, the software options are less polished and more expensive.

UPDATE: Ok, this totally kicks ass. You can highlight a section of up to one second, and it’ll break it down, so you can see which notes are being played, aligned with the on-screen keyboard. It’s beautiful, and makes it a gazillion times easier to decode complex chords. Exciting stuff. See the bottom half of this screenshot.

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Sounds like a cool program. I like the screen with the piano keys and the peaks. I think you can do pretty much the same thing with "standard" software like Cubase - and I think Logic too.
By Anders Toxboe on Sat, Mar 25, 06 at 16:25 · Reply
Hm, I can't figure out which version of Cubase that would be. Logic, of course, with its $999 price tag is a bit out of my league here ;)
By Lars Pind on Sat, Mar 25, 06 at 16:25 · Reply
"Cubase SX3": does the trick. It's a bit pricy as well though, but if you were already using it, it would do the job. Guess you found a good deal after all. :-)
By Anders Toxboe on Sat, Mar 25, 06 at 16:25 · Reply
Out of all the DAW software packages, I've found that Ableton Live has the best audio core for slowing things down. It is also the most fun, if you like the UI. Logic Express probably does what you want, and is $299. However, Logic seems to have the least intuitive interface out of all the DAWs. It looks like Transcribe! is using wxWidgets, which would explain the ugliness.
By rodolfo5000 on Sat, Mar 25, 06 at 16:25 · Reply
This is an old post, but I just wanted to add that Transcribe will let you dial in any tempo change you want, you just have to do it through the Effects window. Click the Fx button to pop it up (on Windows at least).
By Liquidmantis on Sat, Mar 25, 06 at 16:25 · Reply
I suggest you give Intelliscore music transcription software a try from Intelliscore starts with an audio file, like Amazing Slow Downer and Transcribe, but then it takes it a step further by creating a MIDI file containing the notes played so you don't have to figure out the notes yourself. From there, you can edit the notes directly in a sequencer and print it our as sheet music.

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