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Author Topic: How to Transcribe Tunes  (Read 12270 times)

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Lester

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How to Transcribe Tunes
« on: February 03, 2009, 07:15:03 PM »

    How to transcribe tunes

    Risto and Steve Freereeder have supplied their methods of transcribing tunes below:



    It may or may not be obvious, but remember that you cannot accurately and efficiently transcribe recorded music into written music notation unless you can read music fairly proficiently and understand the syntax and conventions of written music to begin with. The literary analogy would be the near-impossibility of trying to re-write a Shakespeare play from only a sound recording if you did not have a good command of 16th-century English and poetic conventions to start with.

    So......

    Resources and tools needed:

    • Recorded material to transcribe.
    • Computer capable of running audio-editing software.
      I used a Mac running Sound Studio, but Audacity, Garage Band, etc. are also good. Ideally, you need to
      • Be able to see the music waveform
      • be able to stop and start the playback at any point
      • be able to loop-playback short sections over and over, repeatedly
      • have the capability of being able to slow down certain complex sections of the music. It helps if your software has the facility to do this without changing the pitch, but it's not essential
      • be able to add temporary edit marks e.g. 'A'-music, 'B'-music, 'A1', 'A2'. etc.
      • Lots of music manuscript paper, soft pencils, rubber, etc. It is far easier to write your initial transcription out by hand rather than try to put it directly into a music-typesetting package such as Sibelius (or even ABC).
      • Comfortable headphones for listening to the recordings. I found headphones easier to use on a lengthy basis than loudspeakers. They also cut out more extraneous noise.
      • Unless you have perfect pitch and can identify note names by ear, you will need an instrument on which you are fairly proficient at playing by ear and know the note names that you are playing. I used a descant recorder, as I can play it well in most keys and it is a handy size and doesn't clutter up the desk. But other people could use a piano or flute, or whatever they are comfortable with. (I guess it's best not to use a transposing instrument such as a clarinet).
    Methodology

    • Get the recording into digital format, so you can load it into your computer's audio software. If it's on a CD or mp3 already, you're fine, otherwise, if it is on a tape, vinyl or 78 rpm disk, you will have to re-record it digitally first of all.
    • Listen to the recording several times, whilst watching the audio waveform. Try to get a feel for the structure of the music, A-music, B-music, repeats, variations, etc. It helps to add index marks to the waveform at this stage, which will serve as 'navigation beacons' as you flip backwards and forwards in the recording.
    • Try playing your chosen instrument along with the recording. Get a feel for the time-signature and rhythm of the piece: is it a jig, reel, hornpipe, etc?
    • Working by listening to short sections and looping if necessary, start to write down the notes, checking them as you go along with your chosen instrument. This is the real 'meat' of the work. It might not take very long to get through a tune, or it might take ages before you are happy with a particularly complex section  . Don't forget that you can often use music notation conventions such as 1st- and 2nd-time bars when dealing with repeats, etc.
    • When you have reached the end of a tune, listen to the whole thing several times again and play along with your instrument, checking all the time for errors.
    • If the music you are transcribing is a traditional tune played by a traditional musician, the chances are that the musician will not play music in exactly the same way on all the repeats. In this case, you as the transcriber have to make a decision on whether to transcribe every repeat exactly as written (which can make for a very long final transcription) or whether to transcribe a 'basic form' of the tune - perhaps the first time through - and then notate any variations, idiosyncracies, etc. as separate 'footnotes' in the overall transcription. Mostly, I used this latter approach when working on the 'Before The Night Was Out' recordings.
    • Similarly, you will also need to decide how far and in how much detail you want to go into notating ornaments, trills and twiddles. And what do you do where the musician makes a mistake and there is clearly a wrong note in the tune. Do you notate these too?
    • Additional complexities may arise:
      • In the case of old field recordings where the tape may not have been running at the correct speed .
      • the musician's instrument may not have been correctly tuned.
      Both of these will result in a recording which is not at proper pitch. You can often correct this in the digital audio software, but at the same time you need to be sure what pitch you are correcting to. E.g. when working on some of the recordings for 'Before The Night Was Out', it happened that a solo fiddle player might be heard to be playing in the key of C-sharp. Most probably that would be due to mis-tuning the fiddle, but in the absence of any other clues, it is difficult to know whether the tune should be in D (a good fiddle key) or C (a common key in East Anglia). You have to make a decision based on the context of the location and musician, which needs a good deal of local knowledge and understanding.
    • You should end up with a hand-written music manuscript of the recording. What you do with it then depends on the ultimate use of the transcription. In the case of 'Before The Night Was Out', my hand-written transcriptions then went to the other editors (Katie Howson and Jeannie Harris) who minutely compared my transcriptions with their own listening to the tunes and suggested edits as necessary. Finally, the hand-written notation was transfered note-by-note into 'Sibelius' software for musical typesetting and printing.

    Hope this all helps. I would be happy to answer questions or receive any comments.





    I would only quickly and shortly add the following to what Steve wrote; a couple of hints and the basic work flow when using Transcribe! in particular as the slowdown tool.

    Tools
    • There are many slowdown programs available and I have seen an almost complete list of them somewhere on the home page of Transcribe! www.seventhstring.com but just now I can't find it again, but it's there. Transcribe! is a UK made program available for Windows, Linux and Mac which I can warmly recommend. You can test it 30 days for free.
    • One important thing about slowdown programs is that when transcribing up tempo tunes it may be necessary to get one which uses modern (high) technology like Transcribe!. Some of the free programs simply add "space" in the wave file to stretch it and in this method details will be lost.

    The Sound File

    • If possible use the wav audio file format. Wav files are always larger than the corresponding mp3 files, the reason being that wav format has all the audio data available while the compressed mp3 file has less. If you use Transcribe! copy the wav file from the CD to your hard drive using its file commands in the File Menu. Reading from hard drive gives smoother action that reading directly from CD.
    • A good practise to keep all your files organised is to create a separate folder for each of your tunes named according to the tune title. In the tune folder you can keep all the possible files related to the tune.

    Getting Started

    • Once you have loaded the tune in Transcribe! you will see a wave representation of it, actually two waves when in stereo. You don't need to know or understand much about the graph. All that is important is that the amplitude is shown in the vertical direction. This means that you can see peaks in the graph wherever there is a stronger beat to be heard. This is sometimes a helpful piece of information when moving measure markings to more precise locations.
    • The first task is to mark all the measures in the tune. This is accomplished by pressing key "m" when the tune is playing. If it is a fast tune slow it down for more accurate placement. When working don't forget to save the Transcribe!'s file frequently. (It contains only the placement data etc., the audio file is intact).
    • The next task is to find and mark the structure of the tune. Folk tunes usually have a structure consisting of parts with eight measures of length but sometimes something else. Find the starting points of  all the parts and change the corresponding measure mark to Section mark using the right mouse button menu. (Note that there may be a lead-in consisting of couple of notes in the very beginning of the tune leading into the first part. Keep these notes separate from the first part).
    • The last step is to mark the beats. This is not at all always necessary but may be useful if you want to inspect the "contents of beats" more precisely. Auto generating beat markers goes like this: right click a measure mark, select "edit this marker" from the appearing popup menu. In the window, set beat for the Options and select the appropriate amount of subdivisions. For reels usually four, for jigs  2, 3 or 4 (groups of  3 notes) depending on the time signature, or you could also use say 6 divisions for a 6/8 jig which would mean that you will have a marker of it's own for each of the 1/8 notes in the measure. When working with ornaments you may want to stretch the view of the file from menu View/Zoom In. This helps when you need to set the looping to include only the important beats.
    • There are lots of commands in Transcribe! but the above is what you first need to get started. For instance, you can filter out frequencies which may be useful when transcribing basses. In this case you could also lift the pitch as bass notes are sometimes hard to recognise. The program also gives hints of possible chords, you can see them in the low right hand corner of the main window. For loop selecting and other commands check the complete help file.

    Tuning the Tune

    • Fine tune the tune to the pitch of your instrument from the Fx window. "Tuning" is the tab for this purpose. You have cents, semitones and octaves at your disposal.  If you use your accordion you can also shift the pitch to where it is the easiest for you to find the matching notes from your accordion. With notation programs it is easy to transpose the tune back to the original key or what ever key you may want to use.

    Transcribing

    • Transcribing what you hear directly onto paper would require that you can recognise note intervals or that you have a perfect pitch. You don't need either to get started. When starting it is best to use a notation program or why not an ABC program. This way you can instantly check what you have been doing and make instant corrections. The easiest and least frustrating way is to start with a tune to which you can find a close match from the many ABC file databases in the net.
    • Listen the ABC file(s) with your notation program with the same speed as the TRANSCRIBE! file you are working on. If you can tile TRANSCRIBE! and the notation program on your screen it makes things easier. Play along with the slowed down recording, say first, in two measure loops and make changes to the notation file accordingly. Advance by moving your loop selection measure by measure or by using the other options available in the Fx window/Misc tab.

    Later Added:

    • When transcribing it is quite often useful not to use repeat marks for parts in the notation file but instead write out the repeats. This is because the repeated parts often have variations which are easily written out this way. Also the transition from one part to another or even to the next tune - if you are transcribing a set of tunes - is a no problem without repeat marks. So, for an AABB style tune with 8 measures the notation would have 4*8=32 measures and possibly one lead-in measure. You can then later edit the notation file if repeated parts are so similar that you see repeat marks fit for the purpose.
    • One more little detail. Once you have marked all the measures in the Transcribe! file make the numbering of your notation work file have the same numbering for measures. This way you won't easily lose track which measure corresponds to which measure in the other program.

    Be assured, your skills and understanding of notation and the music you listen to will grow quite rapidly.
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    risto

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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #1 on: February 04, 2009, 08:10:19 AM »

    Thank you Lester!

    I have noticed that some of the new digital recorders - even the economy models like Boss Micro BR - have time stretch feature to allow slow tempo practising. Perhaps could be used for transcribing as well, never tried those new thingies though.
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #2 on: February 21, 2009, 12:40:58 PM »

    I haven't got the technology or nouse so I play the tunes over and over then play along to CD or tape and then work out the notes in ABc on my Anglo concertina, keyboard or whistle.  It's worked well for years and you get to learn the tune at the 'right' speed.

    I don' t readmusic and ABc is great

    I am grateful for all those folk who put ABc and dots online

    Mike
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #3 on: May 27, 2009, 09:34:20 PM »

    Just updated my Transcribe! to the latest version 7.51 and noticed that Transcribe! has had video slowdown feature already since version 7.50.

    EDIT:

    Here: http://www.seventhstring.com/xscribe/video.html
    « Last Edit: May 27, 2009, 09:44:57 PM by risto »
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #4 on: May 30, 2010, 10:09:45 PM »

    Thank you,

    I'm in the throes of transcribing the first tune I've ever written and I'm using ABC (which I'm learning as I go along)!

    What I'm doing is working bar by bar as to what I think it should be (I know the notes, it's getting the lengths right that's the fun bit), playing it back and using that to inform my next segment.  Bar 8 was easier to do than bar 1 as I'd learnt a lot in seven bars. (:)

    All the best

    Steve
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    Alan Morley

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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #5 on: January 06, 2011, 10:49:54 AM »

    The easiest way that I have found it to find the tune on line as a midi file, download and save, then drop it into a midi editing prog.

    There are a few free programms out there that will show a midi file as notation, edit the key, and print out the new notation.

    This might work, although I have not tried it    http://musettemusic.com/ss_edit.shtml

    or have a look at this site http://abcnotation.com/software


    Alan
    « Last Edit: January 06, 2011, 11:03:47 AM by Almo2504 »
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #6 on: September 01, 2011, 10:30:04 PM »

    I think I'll stick to a piece of paper , a pen, and quickly scribed 5 line staves.......The benefits of being taught to read music from the age of 7!
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #7 on: September 01, 2011, 10:35:46 PM »

    I think I'll stick to a piece of paper , a pen, and quickly scribed 5 line staves.......The benefits of being taught to read music from the age of 7!

    Your skills are urgently needed here;D
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #8 on: September 01, 2011, 10:56:37 PM »

    Will do!
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    Re: How to Transcribe Tunes
    « Reply #9 on: September 01, 2011, 11:14:49 PM »

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