How to transcribe sheet music for your songs

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Transcribing sheet music Make rehearsals, sessions, and gigs easier by creating sheet music (and sell it at your merch booth too!)

[This article was written by the folks at Sheet Music Plus.]

If you’re a guitarist or a songwriter, you may think that sheet music had it’s day in the sun some time ago and is now a fading product. Nothing could be further from the truth. 1 out of 10 Americans know how to read music. Most musicians learn to play via reading sheet music. It’s an important tool for easily collaborating with other musicians and building your fan base. So what do you do if your song only exists in your head? Get it transcribed into sheet music!

Transcribing

In music, transcribing means writing out a piece or musical thought that was previously not notated — for example, an improvised jazz solo. There are lots of situations when you, the musician, would need transcribing work done:

* “What was that riff again?”  When you have lots of melodies and harmonies in your brain and under your fingers, it’s easy to get mixed up and forget subtle the details and nuances of every song. Having sheet music to read gives you a quick reference point if you’re drawing a blank before a gig or recording session.

* New band members: Does your band change personnel frequently? Are you a solo artist who hires musicians on a per-gig basis? You could save valuable rehearsal time by having sheet music transcriptions in hand for them to read from. Better yet, email PDFs ahead of time so they come in prepared and ready to play.

* Sharing ideas.  One of the best compliments a composer or songwriter can receive is another musician wanting to cover their music. Your music will get played more often, in farther locales, and with greater accuracy, if it’s available as sheet music.

Services like Digital Print Publishing allow musicians an easy way to distribute and sell their music around the world through sheetmusicplus.com. With this free platform, you can sell sheet music and Mp3 recordings, earn 45% royalties, while still retaining all your ownership rights and never having to sign an exclusive contract.

How to find a transcriber:

If you don’t have the time or ability to transcribe your music, there are plenty of quality musicians online for hire. Some charge by the hour, others by the measure and pricing varies on size and scope of each piece. A good transcriber will say that every transcription is unique, so expect fluctuations in pricing and be wary of anyone who doesn’t ask what you’re looking for in your final product. At a minimum, you will need to be specific about the instrumentation, skill level and additional details that you want. If you hire musicians on a per-gig basis, you may need a note-for-note transcription of the exact rendition of what you want played.

If you’re OK with a looser, more improvisational format, a lead chart (lead sheet) or simplified transcription may be fine. Lead charts are great sheet music to sell to your fans because a simplified piano reduction with chords is more accessible and easier to play. Also, be sure to request a copy of the produced mastered file if you need to make edits later on but don’t want to hire the same transcriber.

In the end you should expect a well-engraved .sib or .musx file, PDF, and MP3 of the MIDI playback.

Bottom line: the more detail you want, and the more elements involved, the longer it will take and the more it will cost. Be sure to set your expectations upfront and be prepared to pay more for a rush job.

Sheet Music Plus maintains a Transcriber List with contact info of professional transcribers for hire. All of them have given permission to be contacted by you for transcribing services.  If you’re looking for some professional transcriber help, or if you’d like to be added to the Transcriber List, please send an email to: helpdigitalpublishing@sheetmusicplus.com

If you like supporting your local musicians, consider reaching out to college music departments in your area. Music students are always looking for extra work and transcription services are right up their alley. Most young musicians are fluent with music “engraving” programs such as Finale and Sibelius that produce professional-looking sheet music in PDF format. Here’s a handy link to search music schools in your area: http://www.careersinmusic.com/music-schools.aspx

Do-It-Yourself:

If you have a decent understanding of music notation, transcribe the music yourself. Try the traditional route of listening to a groove or solo repeatedly, writing one note at a time until all notes come together, each measure contributing to the whole song until completion. This method has a great side benefit of building deep knowledge and skill for the song or groove’s style and feel.

Or let technology help you out.  Transcribe! is particularly great because it allows you to slow down a track without altering the pitch (though you can do that too). You can loop small or large sections and even view a “note guess” screen (this works best for isolated moments, too much distortion or unpitched percussion tends to muddy up the analysis).

Though not transcription-specific, Audacity is a free, open-source editor that also allows audio to be recorded and sequenced directly into the program. Like Transcribe!, speed and pitch can be adjusted, although the sound quality is not as good and the interface can be harder to navigate for transcription-specific needs.

If you want to get serious, Finale is an industry-leading program that’s widely considered as the go-to notation software for musicians. Whether you’re creating a simple lead sheet, making worksheets for rehearsals, or composing your magnum opus, Finale helps you easily capture your musical ideas, produce beautiful notation, and quickly share the results.

HAVE FUN!

Remember, it’s YOUR music: don’t let it stress you out. Transcribing can be a great way to get to know your music better, vastly improve your chops, and get your music sellable as sheet music.  Plus, who’s to say you can’t change it as you go along? Follow your ear, sing along, and have fun!

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  • Laveau Truth

    Hi guys!!

    Working on a project that is equal parts reading and singing. And for the singing I need to have some instrumental backup. There is one song that I need to either get transcribed or else get it into notation and have someone play it back to me on piano. Problem is that every time I try to record a MIDI file on my computer then my music programs throw a fit. Any ideas????

  • Ron W

    I disagree with you that Audacity’s sound quality is worse than Transcribe! It’s the other way around. There are two ways to slow down music in Audacity; one is via a slider on one of the tool bars (lower quality), the other (high quality) is by having Audacity process the track based on the percent slow down you want. The latter is called “sliding time scale/pitch shift”. It takes a few minutes to process,so you can’t adjust it in real time, but you don’t need to. What you do is save the slowed down tracks -one might be at 50% and another at 25% and open multiple instances of Audacity for each speed. I jump back and forth between speeds, as needed.

    I’m sure other DAW’s, like Cubase etc, can slow down tracks this way. I like Audacity because it can run multiple instances with no problems for my PC, where-as the others I’m not sure.