How to Convert MP3 to Notes

Converting MP3 files to written notes is a complex process called transcription. When a transcriber approaches a new piece, several steps exist to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. The process is difficult at first, but as with all things, practice will make it possible to transcribe more quickly and accurately. Learning to transcribe is a great activity for any musician, composer or arranger that wants to get into the heart of music and develop their ear.

Step 1: Look for any sheet music available. Often, the sheet music is simplified and will not contain everything that is in the original song, but it can act as a guide to get you started. Publishers often rewrite rhythms to make them simpler and so the sheet music for popular music is almost never the same. In classical music, this is not an issue, since classical musicians will play directly from the sheet music. By using the sheet music as a guide, you can determine the key, basic rhythms and time signature of the piece. This can save a beginning transcriber a significant amount of time.

Step 2: Determine the rhythm first. Take small segments of the music that you can easily remember and notate the rhythms that you hear. Three to five seconds of music is a good number to start with. Loop the piece several times and compare it with your rhythm to ensure that you have the rhythm correct. Do this for the entire piece so that you have a basic map for determining the melody.

Step 3: Determine what the first note of the melody is. You can do this by listening to the opening of the song and matching the pitch on a piano or other musical instrument. This first note will give you an idea of what the key of the piece is. Often the first note is the tonic of the key. Tonic refers to the first scale degree of a key. For instance, G major has a G for the tonic.

Step 4: Determine the key of the piece. Do this by writing out the melody first and then comparing it to different key signatures. More than likely, you will either be in major or minor. Start by checking the key signature of the note that the melody starts with. For instance, if the melody starts on a G, you are most likely in G major or minor. You can determine the key based on the flats and/or sharps in the melody.

Step 5: Write the rest of the melody in the key established from step 4. The simplest solution is often correct when notating melodies. Most of the notes in the melody will fit in the key signature. If there are notes that do not fit in the key signature double-check them as it is possible you are not transcribing the music correctly. Most music will stay within a certain key so that accidentals are not necessary.

Step 6: Begin to work on the harmony. This is the hardest part of the transcription. Take it slow and isolate each chord by looping short segments of music. Don't move on to the next chord until you figure out the previous one.

Step 7: Enter the results into a professional notation program. There are several available on the market. The advantage to completing this step is that you will be able to play back the entire composition in real time and compare it to the original mp3 file.

NCH creates a free digital transcriber that you can use to drastically slow down the tempo of the music. Use this to make it easier to isolate notes. Finale and Sibelius are notation programs used in the music industry. A free program called MuseScore is also available.


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