I am a beginning piano student. I bought some sheet music to play Make Someone Happy, written by Jule Styne, and made famous by Jimmy Durante. The problem is that the sheet music starts with the words, and does not include the distinctive intro. I counted the unique sounds in the intro, and they seem to include 14 keystrokes that span the first 8 seconds of the recording.

How can I determine the 14 notes/chords being played in the first 8 seconds of the song? And how can I write them in sheet music?

You can listen to the recording and hear the 14 notes/chords I am talking about by clicking on this link to the song at youtube.

I know that another instrument may have been used to create the sounds in the recording, but I would like to make an approximation of those sounds using a piano.

As a beginner, how could I go about identifying the notes/chords and writing them down to be played on piano?

  • 3
    I've purged the comments and re-edited the question. I see no reason why this could not be our "canonical" transcription question in this form. A good answer will go step-by-step at (relatively) beginner level, and should absolutely use the question's example as work material.
    – NReilingh
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 19:42
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    @CodeMed This site is open to all skill levels, but you have to understand that someone giving you the transcription will not help you with your transcribing skills. For example you wouldn't ask someone to practice playing this song for you and likewise asking someone to transcribe this song for you will not help your transcribing skill. You get better by doing it which is what the users of this site are telling you. Many people on the site can transcribe and I can tell you I can and I'm not a music major. We'd prefer to teach you how to do it instead of doing it for you.
    – Dom
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 1:42
  • 2
    After a quick listen the intro is literally the same as the first 4 bars of the verse without the melody which you have... so you already have the transcription...
    – Dom
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 3:34
  • 1
    CodeMed - please do not add those edits in to the question. This is not how SE is supposed to work, and they break the existing answers.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 8:51
  • 2
    Also - comments are for requesting clarity etc. Any arguments/discussion etc - please take it to Music: Practice & Theory Chat
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 8:52

6 Answers 6


I am an amateur, but I thought you may find it useful: I use software to help me. I listen to each part, & attempt to reproduce it as faithfully as I can (using both intuitively & through experience many of the techniques outlined in other answers posted to your question). Then the software transcribes it. Below is my attempt at the first two measures.

The software doesn't do everything. I had to make choices, most notably key & meter. I chose 8/8 (3+3+2/8) for this part of the song...that's what I hear. Also, the low Eb harmony on the vocals may be my imagination.

Others (e g Dom, jjmusicnotes) may be able to comment on how close I came...they may also have comments on whether or not someone who is serious about transcription ought to get involved with this kind of software...

enter image description here

Once you have that, the software can gather all the notes from all the parts onto a piano staff. You can then make further choices about which to leave out, how to notate, etc. Here's mine:

enter image description here

May I also add that, in the end, there are no rules (though there certainly exist conventions whose adherence/ignorance that will make your transcription more/less popular with others)!

Just a sampling from the internet:

enter image description here

  • (Beware the C-clef!) The software is Logic Pro X, but I think almost all recording software on the market now can do this. Sometimes using sampled sounds is the only way I can identify what I am hearing. I think all the other answers (by more experienced musicians) recommend ear training in one way or another. I have to think even using this "cheat" constitutes, to some degree, ear training as well.
    – commonhare
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 21:35

There are a few different ways to approach transcription and depending on how good your ear is and how much detail you want to put into your transcription. It also should be noted that like practicing an instrument, you get better at transcribing by doing it.

In general, you would need the following:

If you have a keyboard or synth I recommend using it to play what you transcribe back in whatever sound is closest. Trust me it makes transcribing easier.

Initial Listen

There is a lot that goes into notating a piece besides just the pitch and duration of the notes and you will need to listen for articulation, dynamics, and overall techniques that define the sound as well as necessary markings like key, time signature, and tempo. jjmusicnotes cover these nuances pretty well and I recommend reading his post about them.

Also listen for patterns and try to break the piece up into sections so you can transcribe it little pieces instead of the whole. The example intro is pretty short so most likely it will not need to be broken down. On the first few listens through before notating I just wanted to get an idea of the:

  • Tempo
  • Time Signature
  • Form
  • Length of section
  • Overall feel

After a few listens though a few basic things that I noted was:

  • The time signature with 4/4 with a two beat pick up (More info on how to listen for time signatures)
  • The whole intro was 4 bars long including not including the two beat pick up.
  • The first two measures practically repeated themselves to fill the four bars just without the top voice and it was slightly quieter
  • Using a metronome I found the tempo to be approximately 120 bpm
  • The sound in the recording was strings that were most likely plucking the notes instead of bowing (pizzicato) them giving the notes a more staccato feel
  • All the played notes seemed to have the same duration

This is a lot to take in, but it will help when actually transcribing the piece.

Figuring out the Rhythm

In most songs, the rhythm is much easier to figure out than the pitch of each note. In this piece that was also the case. Using the time signature, pick up, and tempo information found above the rhythm could be notated.

Tapping or counting typically helps figure out duration of notes, but you need to practice before you can do this well. Since this song starts on a pick up of two beats, we will start counting on 3. By counting along, we note the pick up consists of two quarter notes on 3 and 4 giving us the following rhythmically:

enter image description here

The next set of notes if following the pick up. The first note is a quarter note on beat 1 followed by another quarter note on beat 2. On beat 3 there is a rest followed by a quarter note on beats 4 and 1 leaving us with this pattern:

enter image description here

The pattern then rhythmically repeats giving us the rhythm for the other two measures:

enter image description here

Figuring out the Pitch of the notes

Now that we know the duration of we need to figure out the pitches. Ear training is extremely useful in this part as unless you have perfect pitch or extensive ear training, you will most likely be guessing a lot. Also note if you are transcribing for different instruments the timbre won't quite match up making the pitch identification slightly harder.

You need to figure out the first note. If you don't have perfect pitch like me there is typically some guessing involved. It also doesn't help that initially when you start transcribing you don't have a key making fining notes a little bit difficult.

In this song the first note is rather low so I would play the recording and try and find the first note. After two plays I fount the first note was a low Bb as shown here:

enter image description here

The next note I recognized because I've had ear training before was a perfect 5th down which was an Eb. Knowing this and that the pattern repeats three times we now have the following:

enter image description here

The next note was more then one pitch and I could tell by how it sounded. The collection of pitches though seemed "hollow" so I knew that there were most likely octaves and 5ths in the collection of notes. I listened to this group of notes a lot on loop to transcribe it. To figure it out I first listened to the lowest note which was the same as the first pitch Bb and then I listened for the highest note which was another Bb but 3 octaves up. I kept listening until I picked out the inner notes. One of the notes was an octave above the bass while the other was a perfect 4th below the highest note. Because the section section was the same except for the top notes were not played, we now know:

enter image description here

The few other notes follows the same pattern as above. It is not hard to figure out just listen to the previous note to figure out the next. All the notes move the same amount and is a good transcribing exercise.

Cleaning up the Transcription

We have all the notes pitches and durations, but we still need to notate a few things. First of all, we need a tempo marking. Second we need to figure out what key we are in. Because this is only part of a song I cannot say for certain what key it is in though based on the given notes I can guess it is is Bb major or Eb major. We also need to put in the dynamics for the part. Last, but not least is the articulation. Since the piano cannot easily play pizzicato, so instead a better way to notate the articulation is to use a mezzo staccato on each note. Put it all together and you now have the following:

enter image description here


The following steps above are what it took to transcribe the intro of Make Someone Happy. The steps should help anyone transcribe anything, but until you get a few under your belt it will be difficult. Also ear training in general will help you recognize rhythmic patterns and intervals to make transcribing easier.

  • 2
    @CodeMed You won't get the right sound unless you have a pizzicato string patch. You also have to finish the transcription I say that in my post...
    – Dom
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 21:29
  • 1
    I recently used Logic Pro X for all of the “tools” you mentioned (playback, transcription, instrument, and looping/slowdown). There’s a bit of expense and learning curve to it, and the transcription is a bit quirky, but it helped me a lot to have one tool to do all of the transcription elements, even if it wasn’t ideal for all of them. Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 21:55

Transcribing music is an incredibly educational process and is wonderful ear-training for aural development. Especially as a beginner, it is important to begin with a wide scope, and gradually narrow the focus to eliminate otherwise distracting information. Often, beginning musicians are overwhelmed with all of the aural information, and so the model I will outline below is one that I have used and taught that separates the aural experience into distinct layers. Some of these layers are not necessary or applicable for every piece of music, but are important to be aware of nonetheless.

These steps should be taken chronologically from top to bottom:


Determine which instruments are playing. It sounds simple, but if you want to transcribe a cello part for piano, it's helpful to know how they sound differently than, let's say, a the viola section.


How fast or slow is the music? Again, sounds simple, but if you think the music is twice as fast as it really is, your transcription will need to have a lot of editing.


If there is a tonal center or tonal region, this will help you determine which notes are more likely to be relevant than others. If you know the music is in the key of F, you'll also know it's unlikely you'll need to use notes like C# or G# unless something significant is happening. Similarly, if you know the piece uses a [016] trichord, you have something on which you can hang your hat.

Form / Phrasing

Understanding how the piece is organized (its underlying structure) greatly helps in transcribing music. This is especially true of “pop” music because once you transcribe each element of the song, the rest of the song is really just a matter of copy and paste. Understanding Sonata-Allegro or Rondo form can greatly help you create expectations of tonal or thematic relationships. The more you can expect, the less you are surprised by, and the quicker the transcription goes.


When possible, do your best to determine the rhythms of the notes you wish to transcribe. If the piece has a time signature or changes time signatures, make sure you understand what they are and when exactly they change. Knowing the tempo will also help you determine the time signature and which rhythmic durations represent the sounds you're hearing. If the piece is without signature or is improvised, then it is important that you know The Rules of the Piece. (see below) Rhythms can either be written exactly, or, if you're pressed for time (as many musicians are), it is very common to use dashes for longer notes and dots for shorter notes. Even making general graphical expressions can greatly reduce stress while transcribing.


Once the rhythms are notated or approximated, the next item is pitch. Often people try to transcribe both pitch and rhythm simultaneously, and this consistently leads to sub-quality transcriptions from the beginning musician. Over time, musicians develop the ability to notate both simultaneously, as certain patterns and frames of expectation become more developed. Using the information determined from the section in this answer about Key can greatly help here. Often, students should use familiar songs to help them master interval recognition (such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for an octave). Students and beginning musicians should also learn to recognize common chord progressions, usually represented through roman numerals. An example of I-vi-IV-ii6/5-V-I is very common and found in tens of thousands of pieces of music.


Determine which parts are louder or softer than other parts. Determine when the music is growing or receding in volume. This knowledge helps you decide which parts are more or less important than others. It is also necessary for creating an exact musical transcription.


Much like dynamics, articulations illustrate how a given note should be played. Articulations help define the character or style of the music. To help other people recreate the style / character of the music you hear, it is important to know how the music is being articulated, and what symbols represent the appropriate articulation. (Imagine how silly Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings would sound if everything was played staccato.)

Expressive Indications

Expressive indications can describe a lot about the character the composer wishes to convey. Whether it is “Allegro ma non troppo” (Quickly but not too much) or “Langsam” (Slowly) or whatever Mahler wants, having an idea of the original indication, or creating your own indication can help communicate the music with other people.


Whether you're transcribing a pop song, an art song, or a folk song that has been passed orally through generations, you should always do your best to notate and/or translate the text as accurately as possible.

The two below are not necessarily chronological steps, but are important in the transcription process.

Know the Rules of the Piece

This is especially important for new music. If you've got a specific recording of a John Zorn, Earl Brown, Pauline Olivieros, Ligeti, Messiaen, or a host of other contemporary composers you're interested in transcribing, it's really important you understand how the piece works. For indeterminate or aleatoric music, the music can often be represented abstractly through graphics instead of traditional musical notation. If using this strategy, it is even more important that the music and information is conveyed as clearly as possible. After all, another musician will not only be tasked with understanding the rules of the piece, but your transcription as well. There are some conventions for graphic notation, but that is a bit more specific and can be developed in a further discussion.

Use Historical / Theoretical Knowledge

As with many of the other layers, using historical and theoretical knowledge can save a lot of time in the transcription process. For example, if you're transcribing a Haydn string quartet, you can use historical knowledge to know that it's unlikely you'll find tone rows or hexachords. Therefore, you can rule out a lot of expectations of sounds. As I said earlier, reducing surprise makes transcription move more quickly.


To get started with transcribing by ear, I found it useful to spend time playing and learning to recognise intervals. For example, perfect 5ths and 4ths. By doing this, you can listen to a melody, find the first note by trial and error, and from there work out the rest based on the intervals between subsequent notes.

This isn't an instant fix for your problem, but as you progress as a musician you'll start to recognise these intervals. The easiest way at the moment for you would probably be to use a 'higher or lower technique'. To find the starting note, play any note and compare it to the first note in the video. If the video is higher, go up the keyboard and vice versa. Once you have that, do it again, and again until you have the melody. Play through the melody a few times to embed it in your mind before writing it down.

To make it easier to do this, in the past I've downloaded the song to my phone and taken it with me to the piano so that it's easier to skip forward and back so I can listen to particular parts of the melody. To make it easier to do this I shorten the song in audacity by cutting off the end so I only have the part I need on the phone, then I do the trial and improvement. Remember you won't get it instantly, there isn't a secret trick that enables you to do this, it comes through practice and experience, but it's good to make a start.

As an example of the recognising intervals, the first two notes are a perfect 5th apart. Find the first note, go down 5 and you have the second.

  • 1
    A book I read once advised building a mental library of familiar melodies whose first two notes span each interval. For example, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" for an octave, "Hey Jude" for a minor third, "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" for a major third, "Born Free" for a perfect fourth, etc etc. This has been very useful to me.
    – commonhare
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 10:07

You would need a thorough musical knowledge. Some of the skills you may need.


You would need to at the very least know how Major and minor keys sound. If you are going deep knowledge on how other scales sound would be a good asset. These include Pentatonic (Minor and Major) Whole Tone scale and all the various modes.

Recognizing rhythms

Being able to feel and write out the general rhythm of the piece is very much needed. Clap out with your hands the general rhythms of the piece to get the feel of the music.

Recognizing Chords

Major / Minor / Augmented / Diminished / Suspended Seconds / Suspended Fourth / Seventh Chords / Ninth chords / Chords with notes added. Know how they sound and how inversions change the sound.

Basic Chords Progressions

Understanding how general chords progressions sound and also how it sounds when unusual progressions are used will also be a good skill to have.

Stylistic knowledge

Having a good knowledge about the main schools of thoughts regarding music in the west. The instruments and some of the prominent figures will aid in your understanding of music,.


A program such as Transcribe! from http://www.seventhstring.com/xscribe/overview.html

can be very helpful. You probably already have programs that will slow down, eq, loop, place markers etc. an audio clip, but Transcribe! combines all the useful functions in one convenient, cheap, package. (I'm just a satisfied user, I don't get a penny if you buy it.)

You'll find plenty of transcription advice on the internet, and this thread has already provided some good stuff. I'd just emphasize the importance of setting landmarks - lay out the bars, put in the notes you CAN recognize clearly, on the right beats, then worry about the ones inbetween. Also, it can often be easier to say what a note ISN'T than what it IS. Remove the impossible, what's left is very likely the answer.

This job starts out as intimidatingly slow and impossible. It rapidly becomes easier!

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