Converting Audio files to Sheet Music
Is it possible to convert your CD or MP3 songs to sheet music?
Wouldn't it be great if you had a software program that you could use to play your CD or MP3 file into, and it would hand you playable sheet music?
The hard truth is that no such program exists at present. Music is very complex, and analyzing it to get pitches and rhythms correct is a pretty amazing technical feat. Your brain is pretty good at such a task, but creating software to do this job is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Take a good listen to even just a trio, whether it's a garage band or a classical group. Various instruments playing notes of different duration and pitch at the same time are delightful to listen to, but very difficult technically to separate into their individual instruments, pitches, and durations in an audio file. Nearly all of the song books that you can purchase were done by musicians who painstakingly listened to an original recording, and transcribed each note by hand using some tool to slow down the recording enough to distinguish note pitches and timings. "But that's a lot of work!" Well, yes it can be.
One very quick and easy solution for getting sheet music for songs
You can use existing MIDI files and have them transcribed to sheet music. Notation Musician and Notation Composer faithfully convert MIDI (.mid) or Karaoke (.kar) files to sheet music. Many hundreds of thousands of MIDI files are available on the Internet. Many musicians have put a lot of effort into creating high-quality MIDI files. These files can be used in Musician and Composer to create sheet music that you or your group can use for personal enjoyment or performance. You can use your favorite search engine and use it to look up "MIDI" and the name of the song you would like to find.
But what if you can't find a MIDI or Karaoke file for the song you want, or you have a song that you're writing for which you want sheet music?
A few programs attempt to convert MP3 and WAV files to MIDI, but can only do so for single melody voices or instruments, and with very limited success. Techniques such as vibrato or slides often cause the programs to make mistakes in determining pitches and rhythms. When attempting to analyze music where multiple notes are being played at the same time by multiple instruments (i.e. nearly all music!) they make so many mistakes that they are really of no practical use.
The above statement is not intended to criticize the attempts of earnest music software developers who have tackled the problem of converting MP3 and WAV to MIDI. Rather, it's just a very difficult problem to solve even for single melody voice or instruments. And experts are saying that the problem is nearly impossible to solve for MP3 and WAV files with multiple instrument (polyphonic) sound, such as a voice with guitar, a rock band, or orchestra.
How can you get sheet music for the other songs on your CD or in your MP3 library?
You can do exactly what professional transcribers have been doing for years - slow down the music, and write out the transcription yourself. Only now there are programs that will help you do this task much faster and easier than ever before. In the process, you'll probably also find some added benefits.
- You'll develop your own musical ear, which will make the job of transcribing songs even easier and quicker for you the more often you do it.
- And you'll have the songs "under your fingers" by the time you finish your transcription!
The keys to creating a good transcription to sheet music:
- Be familiar with the style - It's much easier to transcribe a song that is in a style with which you are familiar, as you'll notice certain motifs or "signatures" of a given style. This knowledge will save you much time when creating your transcriptions. If you've played lots of music in the same style as the piece you're transcribing then you'll find it much easier to understand what's going on in the song.
- Figure out the structure of the song - Having the framework on which to "hang" the notes will be very helpful for understanding, and hence transcribing, the way the notes fit together within the song. Determine what kind of rhythm the song has (eg. 4/4 time, 3/4 time, swing, etc.) and how the verse/chorus/bridge structure is laid out in terms of order and numbers of measures.
- Use a good notation program - Notation Composer is favored by musicians of all levels as being comprehensive, yet flexible and easy to use. Composer allows you to enter notes manually, or you can "play in" (record via MIDI instrument) the notes, and then listen to them compared to your original recording. You can easily adjust pitches and timing to give a faithful transcription of your song. When you're done, you'll have the sheet music laid out before you, and you can easily tidy it up for printing!
- Slow down the song - Use a tool that will slow down the song without changing
the pitch. Especially for styles you aren't as familiar with, slowing down the song
will help you focus on a particular aspect, such as a particular riff or musical
figure, or the interplay between instruments, and thus will help you with your transcription.
Various software tools are available for this aspect of transcribing a song (you can use your favorite search engine to find ones that interest you). They have various features that are helpful, such as:
- variable multi-band EQ - focus on instruments of different pitch ranges
- looping capability - listen repeatedly to a passage to ensure your transcription is correct
- multiple speed adjustment - tease out the nuances of difficult passages by slowing down to as slow as 1/10th the original speed
- Start with the easy parts - Usually beginning with the melody line will help you get going faster. You can then move on to other prominent parts, such as a bass line, or particular riffs. Enter these into your notation program first, and then build around them. Notation Composer allows you to move around these measures if you didn't put them in the right place to begin with, or to add and delete measures if you need to. After you have the melody and other prominent parts, you can work on the harmonies. This will probably be the more difficult aspect of your transcription, and one where being familiar with the style will help immensely. Knowing the melody and the bass line will also help, as these notes usually provide the frame of reference for the chords that other instruments (or fingers on the same instrument) are playing.
Using Notation Composer, your ears, and a "slow down" audio tool (even Windows Media Player does this, and is on all Windows machines) can help you get excellent sheet music for any song you want. You can try out Composer free for 30 days, and see how easy it can be to transcribe or create your own sheet music. Download it here.