Thursday, November 26, 2009

An idea for music transcription.

Many musicians spend time transcribing music, using computer software such as Sibelius or Finale to enter notes into sheet music. This process, though, could use improvement, particularly when a midi keyboard is not available. (In some programs the computer keyboard mapping is not intuitive; in Finale 2006, one enters notes by typing their letter names. The "g" key produces a g note and so on - but on a qwerty layout, this doesn't work well, because of the non-consecutive placement of a,b, and c. Also, I have yet to see a good way to select note duration.) Both Finale and Sibelius have recently released new transcription features, such as Sibelius' keyboard window introduced in May 2009. Here I will introduce one of my ideas for faster music transcription.

Instead of following an arbitrary metronome when recording, my program lets the performer tap the pulse themselves. This lets the performer play more naturally, and also to slow down for parts of the music that are more complex. I recently finished a proof-of-concept of this system that needs only a standard computer keyboard. The keys are played like a piano, and the Tab key is tapped for every quarter note. It works well; I've already used it to transcribe some of a Bach cantata.

Some screenshots of the prototype, called "Trilling":

A short fragment, saved to MusicXML and imported by Finale:

The same fragment, saved to LilyPond:

Even if you don't have Finale, Sibelius, or LilyPond installed, you can see a rough preview of the music, drawn by my little "scoreview" program:

I plan to take this project forward, adding more features, and creating a truly useful tool for music transcription.

In order to export to MusicXml and LilyPond, I use code from an open source project called Mingus. I'm grateful for that project, which turned out to be very similar to what I needed. I added the capability of tied notes and changed some of the ways it writes musicxml files.

Download source, requires Python 2.5, released under GPLv3.
At the moment, it only runs on Windows because I am using the winsound module to play .wav files in real-time. (I'm not using midi output anymore because, if one doesn't have hardware midi, there is a noticeable delay during playback.)