I generally don't concern myself with the notation when I'm producing a new song; basically I just make sure everything's on beat and in key and sounds good. Writing the song down seems like such a chore (mostly because I have a hard time determining exact rhythms), and so I may or may not write it down at all later. Is there any way to make this process easier, so that I will write it down?

(My specific type of music I make is guitar music, but I'm sure this could apply to other instruments as well.)

  • 1
    Record yourself when you get an idea. It helps me a lot to remember what I had written the day before.
    – Caleb
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:44
  • Why do you want/need to write it down? Feb 24, 2015 at 0:50
  • Caleb: I know the notes of the songs just fine; it's writing the rhythm down that's difficult for me.
    – manejar
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:51
  • topo morto: I was under the impression that it's a good practice and figured it would improve my skills.
    – manejar
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:52
  • 1
    Have you tried any transcription aids? If your main problem is rhythm, that is much more easily identified programmatically than pitch is.
    – user28
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:54

4 Answers 4


I am a songwriter and composer - in the sense that I write lyrics and also compose the guitar music to go with the lyrics. And the only notation I feel a need to write down is the chords I am playing. So we have a few things in common.

When I write my lead sheet, I have the lyrics typed out and then I use a pencil to put the chords in the exact place where the first strum of that chord will occur. This helps with the rhythm when I am playing the song. If the chord is strummed between two words (notes in the melody) - I write the chord name between the two words to so indicate.

After I write the lead sheets with lyrics and chords, I record my songs. But after that - I have personally never felt a need to transcribe my music into notation. But I can see where it would be a great learning tool to further your music education if that is of interest to you.

So if I was going to transcribe my music and I knew the notes (as you say you do) in order to get the rhythm part down (that's what you said you had the most trouble with) here is what I would do.

First - I would record the song to a drum track in whatever tempo I wanted to use. Or perhaps for purposes of transcribing the rhythm, I might slow the tempo of the drum track way down. Some recorders will allow you to do a slow speed playback of your final recording.

I use a multi track recorder with built in drum tracks. There are several made by Boss, Tascam and Zoom to name some of the most popular. Here is one by Zoom that has hundreds of built in drum loops that you can set to whatever tempo you want Zoom 8 Track Recorder

When using one of these with drum loops, the first thing I do is find a drum loop that best replicates the rhythm of my song. Then I choose a tempo and record the guitar chords while playing over the drum track to keep a consistent tempo. I select a drum track with a strong accent beat that allows me to hear when each new measure starts. After I track the guitar chords, I go back and sing the lyrics, thereby establishing the melody. Of course you could use an instrument to play the melody instead of singing it.

If I now want to transcribe what I recorded, I have narrowed down how many notes are in each measure by listening to the drum track. I can also hear how the drum beats fall in relation to the notes I sing, so I will know which beat the note hits on. I can rewind and play each measure over and over until I have the rhythm notated for that measure and then move to the next.

Another way to do this if you don't have or want to spend between $200 - $300 U.S. for a multi-track recorder = would be to use a digital metronome like this one Boss DB-30 $39.00 U.S.. It doesn't just go tick tock like the manual metronomes. It has nine rhythm types and 24 beat variations and can tick the eighth notes or quarter notes etc. while tocking (accent beat) the beat you tell it to (beat 2 and 4 - beat 1 and 3 - just beat 4 - or in 3/4 time - just beat 3 etc.).

And using a 1/8" TRS to 1/8" TRS cable you can plug this into your i-phone, or computer microphone in jack or use a hand held digital recorder like this Sony digital recorder $49.99 U.S. which has a mic in jack that you can plug the metronome into and record the drum track directly into the recorder which will interface with your computer via USB.

So you select and record a click track that matches the rhythm of your song, then record yourself playing guitar to the click track. All of the recorder options mentioned (including your phone) have external microphones that you can use to record your guitar or singing. Or you can get an interface for your smart phone like this one IK i-rig for guitar - and plug your guitar directly into your phone and play it while listening to the previously recorded click track now saved on your computer (use headphones to listen). You can connect the recorder or your phone to your computer and download each track into free audio software such as audacity.

After you record the guitar part over the click track, when you play it back, you will clearly hear the rhythm. You can also then record the melody by singing or playing it and add that to your recording so you can hear which beat each melody note is played or sung on and how meany beats it is held and and if there are any pauses (rests) and so on.

This process should help you get a "feel" for notating the rhythm by listening to the rhythm on a drum track or customized click track - along with the melody.

I certainly think that would make the process easier for you so you might be more inclined to start transcribing your music. Who knows, as you master the skill of music notation - you might find it almost enjoyable as composing the music to begin with.

Good luck with your musical journey. Mostly keep it fun!


You improve by doing and there are no substitutes. It's hard and it sucks and you hate it at first, but you need to do it. When I first sat down at a piano to slog through Bach's 371 harmonized chorales, it took me over an hour to painstakingly work through playing each chord. By the end of the book, I could read through 10-12 chorales in that same hour.

Advice: write down what you think the rhythms are, then have a trusted friend play the rhythms you wrote. If they sound like what you want, then it's correct. If there is any difference, it's back to the drawing board.


Just because you've composed something doesn't mean you need to notate it, if you feel that an audio recording is already a sufficient record of it. If in any doubt, what I often do is video record myself playing any complicated guitar parts if I think it might be time consuming in future to figure them out from audio only. Actually I think the only times I've bothered to fully transcribe my compositions to standard notation was when I had to submit the transcription as academic coursework; occasionally I've had to write down a line or two for performers who had the reading, but not the earing, skills.

You are probably correct that practicing transcribing your songs would help your skills, but if you don't feel inspired to do so, work out what you are actually trying to achieve and try to find another activity that takes you there. You might find it more interesting doing some other exercises - such as sight-reading, or transcribing some well-known songs that you can then compare with someone else's transcription.


I personally started writing guitar music back in the day with the help of software called Guitar Pro. If you find guitar tablatures easier to read it can be really helpful for you to get started with learning rhythms and timings. After that you can switch to notation more easier if you wish.

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