Whatever comes into your head when you think about transcription software, there are a host of options available on the market, one of which is sure to suit your specific needs. Four of the best transcription software options are explored below.
The Finale notation program is one of the best-known pieces of composition software on the market, so it’s no surprise they also offer an excellent—if less well-known—option for simply transcribing music. You can enter notes in step-time using a MIDI keyboard or other MIDI device, or you can import MIDI and MusicXML files and transcribe them instantly. Once you have your sheet music, you can make tweaks and adjustments using a streamlined version of their highly-touted notation software.
The software even has extra features like Auto-Harmonizing, that can add either two or three part harmony to your existing melodies, or the Drum Groove feature that lets you add pre-written drum parts to your song. This is the perfect tool for the teacher or choir director who doesn’t have time to painstakingly transcribe each note of new song, skipping the tedium and letting you get right to the music.
Encore is a powerful piece of music transcription and editing software that also includes a fully functional music notation program, making it an exceptionally useful tool for the professional musician. It can transcribe the music you play in real time on a keyboard or other MIDI device, like other music notation software. It can also transcribe directly from a MIDI file, a feature that most such software lacks. You can then separate your music into parts and fine-tune the lines using the intuitive mouse-based notation software. This makes it a powerful tool for both composers and performers. Whether you’re scoring an orchestral work or putting together a quick lead sheet, Encore 5.0 will let you do it easily and efficiently—and is easily one of the best transcription software around.
Express Scribe Transcription Software
If you’re transcribing voice and speech, the music notation software that’s listed above isn’t going to be the right tool for your job. Instead, you want something that can slow down the sound file, giving you more time to capture what’s being said, without changing the pitch or warping the words, making them more difficult to understand. Express Scribe does this and more.
It supports both audio and visual files and gives you a range of convenient and customizable hotkeys that let you start, pause, rewind, and change the speed at the push of a single simple key. The constant pitch playback also makes it great for jazz or rock musicians transcribing tunes and solos, letting you slow the track down to catch every note in quick passages.
Amazing Slow Downer
If you’re looking for a similar product to Express Scribe but want to be able to use it on your phone or tablet, the Amazing Slow Downer from Roni Music is your absolute best option. Like Express Scribe, it offers true pitch manipulation of sound files, but it’s aimed at the musician more than at the spoken word. The loop feature lets you practice one passage over and over without having to stop and reset the playback. And if you do want to change the key, you can do that, too—great for practicing tunes and language in all twelve keys. To top it off, it’s also an incredible value at right around $15, making it among the best transcription software for the money.
Choosing the Right Software
When it comes to music transcription and notation software, you can spend anywhere from $20 to $500 and more, depending on what features come with the program. While the extra functionality can be helpful for professional musicians and composers, if you’re a hobbyist or student you may not need to shell out the extra bucks to get the kind of program you’re looking for.
Generally speaking, programs that can do MIDI transcription and music notation are going to be more expensive than pitch constant slow-down software. If you’re only concerned with being able to transcribe MIDI files for the purpose of making simple sheet music—like jazz lead sheets and small group arrangements—Finale PrintMusic (see full specs) should suit your purposes just fine. If you need more complex notational abilities, like multi-part scores for an orchestra or marching band, it will be more worth it for you to invest in a pricier program like Encore (see full specs), that will make it easier for you to do more complex score manipulations.
There is unfortunately no single program that can automatically transcribe from a true-to-life sound file. Even a relatively small ensemble like a jazz trio is too complex to be transcribed by a software program. Fortunately, you can find MIDI versions of a huge variety of songs online, typically for free. Keep in mind, though, that even the best transcription software will make mistakes.
Both of the notation programs described above have a playback feature that will let you hear the music as it’s been transcribed so you can catch any places that don’t sound quite right. This means you’ll still need some understanding of music notation and theory, but these programs are an incredible time-saver over transcribing an entire song by ear.
Of course, for many musicians, transcribing by ear is less about creating a piece of written music and more about learning to play the tune or solo in question by memory. If this is the end goal of your transcription project, you’ll want something more along the lines of the Express Scribe or Amazing Slow Downer products listed above.
Having said that, the two types of transcription don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you enjoy transcribing by ear but also want to record what you learn so you or your band can play the music later, you might find it helpful to get both a slow-downer and a notation program so that you don’t have to write out every part by hand. Good luck!