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I would like to be able to play a piano or keyboard and have what I play stored and reproduced as musical notation. Is that possible?

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    How precise do you want it to be? Catch every hesitation and flub as weird tuplets and tied 64th notes? That's how nasty MIDIs made from recordings of humans playing can get.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 10 at 3:25
  • @Dekkadeci: in my MIDI keyboard from the 1990s I can already set the quantization e.g. to 1/8th. Mar 10 at 9:19
  • @ThomasWeller Even if the piece doesn't have anything shorter, and OP is able to play that accurately throughout the piece, what about note durations? If the music is at all complex, you're unlikely to be able to play every note with the desired length, fully legato (especially if you're used to pedalling, which is another issue). And there are many other aspects of notation that wouldn't be inferred: key and accidentals, part/stave splitting, phrasing, articulation, ornaments…
    – gidds
    Mar 10 at 9:33
  • @gidds: durations are also quantized, AFAIK. But that's typically how you want a score to look like. Sure, there is still a lot of work do be done besides just entering the notes. Mar 10 at 11:10
  • Also keep in mind latency in the midi/usb/computer chain. You may think you're playing exactly on the beat but by the time it gets to the software, it could be later than that.
    – Duston
    Mar 10 at 14:35

6 Answers 6

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Any keyboard that is MIDI capable can be plugged into a computer running notation software.

Although we don't offer recommendations for specific products here, just know that most electronic keyboards support MIDI, and most notation software supports converting what you play into sheet music.

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    Agreed, mostly. Many keyboards are MIDI compatible, and notation software does transcribe what you play... BUT there is definitely a learning curve associated and the software it is not a replacement for knowing how to notate what you play.
    – nuggethead
    Mar 9 at 21:25
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As others have mentioned a MIDI keyboard and notation application that understands MIDI is what you need.

But, two other important things to mention...

  • You probably want to check whether/or how the notation application handles rhythm and quantizing, which is a kind of rhythmic precision in the capture of your playing. Even if a person plays with very, very good timing an unquantized rhythm will look crazy with dotted rhythms, ties, 64th notes, etc. Quantizing can do something like move rhythms to the closest sixteenth note, depending on the settings used.
  • You will likely need to do some manual editing of the captured notation to do things like correct a rhythm, change an accidental, etc. Depending on what you're playing and the software you will probably need to deal with key signatures, meters, staves, etc. If you don't know how to notate music, you won't know how to proof read and correct the capture.

Software can help speed up the process of notation, but it can't substitute for not knowing how to notate music.

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This is very feasible, and has been for a long time. You need three things:

  1. First a keyboard that captures the pressing down of keys. Today you would probably select a midi keyboard with USB connection. You may check this website to get an overview what is available in the market. Example of large webshop to get an overview of what is available, not a recommendation
  2. Secondly you need a computer. Most computers made the last ten years or even more will do. (And mouse, screen). Internet connection helps.
  3. The third part is a program that can do the translation. All of the three "professional" programs does this (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico). At least one of them has a free version (Dorico SE) which you simply download.The free program Musescore is another example that can do it. There are quite a few other programs available that can do similar things, almost all so called DAW-s can do it. (And I have probably forgotten a dozen or more programs).

My general experience is that it can take a bit of work to create a good looking score from my fumbling on the keyboard, but that is me.

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  • Plug here for Logic Pro X - you can see and manipulate results as musical score or “piano roll” which is useful if you don’t read standard music well
    – Eric O
    Mar 15 at 18:20
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Many MIDI keyboards have built-in recording and playback facilities, for example this one. Back in the day when PCs were still desk-size monsters and mobile phones only made phone calls, this was the main way you got to record what you played.

These days though, most manufacturers are actually taking that feature out. No-one needs it these days because everyone has a phone or PC they can connect instead, and your phone or PC has way more recording capacity than anything that would be built into the keyboard.

So a far better approach as a beginner is to find a keyboard which plugs into whatever device you're going to be using, and get some software to do the recording. Almost every keyboard these days will come with a bundle of stuff to do that, which will get you started.

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This solution might involve a bit of a learning curve, but there is some software called Lilypond for typesetting music-notation, and it has a GUI frontend program called Denemo. In Denemo you can play midi into it and generate beautiful/professional scores. Lilypond/Denemo have an intimidating number of features.

Here are a couple of demo videos of someone using a midi-keyboard to enter notes:

http://www.denemo.org/~rshann/PitchesFirst.mp4

https://vimeo.com/62188678

Caveats:

  • I've used Lilypond but haven't actually tried Denemo
  • The workflow is a bit clunky-looking
  • I am not affiliated with either of these programs in any way.

Other software with similar features:

  • Finale can import MIDI files but you can't type in MIDI directly.
  • I believe even the free version of Avid's Sibelius software does support entering MIDI directly.
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If you expect the process to be fully automatic and the music you play is anything above the simplest - then NO it's not possible. You can get an exact reproduction of what you play, but you will not get even semi-professional results with the score notation.

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