“Would you do an article on transcription software?” asks Chris Sattem of Lyle, WA. “I know the folks at Bass Player have phenomenal ears and can hear every bass note played. But we lesser mortals need to find a way to slow down the tunes, keep the same pitch, and use some form of equalization to focus on the bass spectrum while we are learning bass lines. Looking at recent transcriptions (‘Shake,’ ‘Search and Destroy,’ etc.), I’ve come to think maybe you have a favorite piece of transcription software.”
Thanks for the note, Chris—you raise a great point. I sure like the sound of your “phenomenal ears” theory, but I suppose I’d better come clean on what’s actually going on here. While I can’t speak to the methods of my fellow Woodshed and Transcription contributors, I rely on two key pieces of software: Transcribe! [www.seventhstring.com] and Sibelius 5 [www.sibelius.com]. I generally keep an unplugged electric bass in my lap as I listen to headphones coming out of my laptop.
Figure 1 is typical of the scene as I work through a transcription (in this case, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”). Opening a sound file (.mp3, .wav, etc.) in Transcribe!, I position that window at the bottom of the screen so I can reference my notation in Sibelius as I listen. For a particularly tricky section, I might select a section of the waveform— in this case, a two-bar phrase—and adjust for tempo, pitch, and other parameters via the EFFECTS window.
As with so many things, it’s a task that’s in some ways harder to describe than it is to actually do. I encourage you to download a demo version of Transcribe! to see if it works for you. If you need any tips, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer your questions in a future column. Now get to it, y’all!