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August 8, 2017

Introductions on Music Transcription or Music Engraving

The first thing to know is that music transcription (as in audio to transcription) is different than engraving. Those terms are sometimes used interchangeably in some circles. Music engraving is the process of taking a very old score that has erasures and other wear marks and modifying the score so it’s back to its former glory. Sometimes this will involve digitizing the score to make sure the music stands a longer test of time than it would in its older, more beat-up state.

For purposes of this post, music transcription is the art of hearing the audio on an mp3, CD or other medium and being able to transcribe into musical notation what is being played. This requires a consummate and accurate ear to pick up styles, notation and techniques and how they are being played. Sometimes, one may need a keyboard or other input device to properly put in the desired notation.

You simply just get your audio from your audio source and sit with a notation software open and play or type the notes into the notation software you’re using. This requires time. It is not a quick pro quo kind of job. The audio requires repeated replays to make sure one gets the information notated accurately. Even after all the notes are entered, it is wise to replay the music again in order to put all the appropriate articulations, slurs, dots and anything else in the proper places on the score. There is going to be a specific spot where I talk about this called “Dressing The Score.”

Music engraving is one of those fields that require an immense amount of planning (in finding gigs in the fields) and once in the gig, an intense amount of concentration. Not to mention, you need to have the musical ear and the musical background in order to do this sort of gig.

Music Engraving—An Overview

Music engraving or music transcription started when composers needed a printing press to get hand-written manuscripts arranged and published. You would originally send  manuscripts to an actual printing press, but now the digital arena is here and has been here since the ’80s.

The Onset of Finale and Other Computer Music Notation Programs

The onset of Finale and other computer music notation programs has paved the way for it to be so much easier to publish professional-looking music that looks just like music you would see printed at good sized publishing houses. It’s like having your own music publishing company right at your fingertips.

Things Needed for Music Transcription

1.Your source file, whether it is an audio file, or actual score.

2.Some type of notation software, free or paid.

3.Access to a computer.

4.Your eyes and ears—this is perhaps the most important resources.

Two Types of Music Transcription

There are two different types of music transcription that are common that I do. The first one is music engraving and restoration. This is where a client will either come to me with a score or email it to me. It would be an older score that has seen many performances in the past and needs restoration, much like when one re-upholsters old furniture to make it look new again. I would then take the older score if it is in print copy and  use a thick pencil to either erase or fix warn-out notes or erasures from multiple uses to make the score have clarity again. Then once all of these erasures are fixed, you go to your favorite notation program—either Finale, Sibelius, Notion, or the free program called Muse Score. Open up a document and set up the document so that it reflects the current instrumentation of your score. Once you have it set up, then input all the notes of the score one by one, making sure to put all detectible marks and expressions into the score. This will possibly take 2 or more editing sessions to get it all down pat. Be prepared to take at least 4 to 6 hours to effectively get all the marks and attributes into the score. Then, export it to a printed copy and give it (in email or other form) to the party that needs the score.

The second type of transcription is the most difficult. It is called audio music transcription. It can also be called auditory music transcription. This is where the client will give me an audio recording of the music they want transcribed and I will have to transcribe music from scratch. This involves several hours of listening to the same recordings over and over, making sure to catch every vital note, pause, marking, rhythm or other detail. Needless to say, the first type of music transcription is easiest because you have a source file right in front of you already written. All you have to do is edit and digitize it. The difference between the two is you enter all the notes and signs from the audio you hear and then edit the digital score to fit a professionally printed manuscript that your performers can all have a copy of it.

In each of these cases, one has to know how to use the notation programs and the computer first before attempting to engrave and transcribe music. Spend a lot of time browsing notation programs to see which ones with their various keyboard shortcuts, music templates, and other features before beginning to accept your first music transcription client.

The basic layout of how to get started is this:

1.Open your chosen notation program and look for a new template function. Look for where “Start a new piece” function wherever that is once you’re ready to transcribe.

2.Make sure you have all your instruments on the score.

3.Write up all your music from your from your source file.

4.Fix up the score and send it to your provider or client.

That is the simple music engraving or transcribing. I’ll be back with more later.

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