Is there a computer program that I can use where I upload a favourite song and it'll transcribe it to sheet music for me? I'd like to play Running up That Hill by Placebo but I don't want to buy the sheet music online.

  • 9
    Buy the sheet music. The composers and their publishing company deserve your financial support. You are a musician, too, so you should understand this. – user1044 Aug 18 '12 at 18:02
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    When you want to play the piece in public you need the printed sheet music anyway. So, buy it. – harper Dec 29 '12 at 7:21
  • Also - Running Up That Hill is by Kate Bush. You might want to browse under "B" :) – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 22 '15 at 8:58

Simply put, no.

If you limit a song to single pure tones, it's pretty easy to write software to recognize them and transcribe it. But once you get to a real instrument things get much harder. Even single notes can be difficult to recognize due to overtones -- the dominant frequency doesn't even need to be the fundamental frequency, which makes it very difficult for software to get it right.

Then add in other instruments and chords and effects and what have you and the problem becomes incredibly hard. There is no software in the world that you can feed arbitrary songs and get an accurate transcription out every time (or even a meaningful percentage of the time for non-trivial songs).

Your best bet is human transcription, possibly coupled with audio editing or transcription aid software to help you out, e.g. Seventhstring's Transcribe! software (note, I haven't used it). While we don't provide direct help with transcription, we have several well-answered questions on the site regarding ear training and transcription; I'd encourage you to check them out and take a stab at learning this song yourself!

  • You can get more mileage out a note-recognition system if you feed it with Band-Pass-filtered "slices". This helps prune-off some distracting overtones. – luser droog Nov 12 '11 at 21:55
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    @luserdroog That might work with an instrument that's in a register all on it's own, but for guitar or piano, the register is so large that it's likely to be covering the same range as another instrument, which would make band-pass filters irrelevant. Another thing you can do it make a spectrogram of the song. If the instrument is producing fairly clean tones, you can kind of see what it's doing. That's also really helpful for figuring out rhythms, for percussion, etc. – naught101 May 5 '12 at 3:44

There is no route:

song => sheet music

But there are routes

song => human "translator" => midi file => sheet music

There are tons and tons of "midi files" all over the internet. You only need to search Running up that hill midi (that one's by Kate Bush, I'm not sure that's the same as the Placebo version)

Synthesia can display sheet music from a midi (see video on site)

syntheisa game

  • That's a very interesting piece of music: the note values don't agree with the time signature! The final bar displayed above has a dotted crotchet, a quaver and another crotchet - three crotchets with a 2/4 signature. The bar before has 2.5 crotchets and the fifth bar has 2.75 crotchets (if I read it correctly). – No'am Newman Feb 5 '15 at 7:45

For most songs it's more trouble than it's worth when not impossible.

If you only want the piano section for this song, it might be possible, but there's not one app that will do this. You first need to find a midi version of the song instead of wav or mp3 and a midi player that will let you turn off channels (vocals, bass, drums, etc) then save the results. The next step is to find an app that will convert midi to notation (reliability varies, but the piano on this song is pretty simple so you may have good luck).

There are a few software titles that do this, I don't have a specific recommendation since this is usually an exercise in futility for more complex pieces... I tend to not go this route. The ones I've tried also did TAB, and those tend to yield impossible results. If you want the keyboard and synthesizer sections you probably won't have much luck transcribing with the effects they're run through, but the piano in this song does not seem to have very many polytones that notoriously botch most software transcriptions.

Still, at the end of the day, it'll probably be less frustrating just to buy the sheet-music.


If you have a midi version of the song, it's pretty much done for you. You can open it in a program like guitar-pro and it will transcribe sheet music and a tab for you. I don't know how useful the tab is to you, but you get the former out of it as well so.

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    Unfortunately no version of Guitar Pro or Tux Guitar I've tried produces correctly notated sheet music. Every accidental must be either all sharps or all flats depending on the key (C Major | A minor is a sharp key?!). You cannot manually change them later. If this has changed recently please correct me. – Jay Skyler Apr 25 '15 at 3:47

You may try http://codingteam.net/project/scolily unfortunately you need Linux to use it.

  • 5
    I think you mean "fortunately" :P. But seriously, you can run some linux programs on windows using cygwin, although I haven't tried scolily. – naught101 May 5 '12 at 3:52

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