I hope this isn’t a silly enquiry. My daughter improvises on our piano, classical style, and I would like to know if there’s a means to notate on computer as she plays.

We bought Sibelius software but haven’t taken it out of the box yet! I gather we would need an electric keyboard to connect with our laptop, but do we need anything else?

Is it as straightforward as that? We home educate so can’t ask for advice from music teachers.

  • 1
    Electric keyboard can be divided into two categories: sound producing keyboard with a digital computer interface, and silent keyboard with a digital computer interface. In fact, most semi to professional "electric", "electronic" keyboards have a digital computer interface, most generally implemented as MIDI (over USB). – Agnes K. Cathex Dec 15 '18 at 12:16
  • Apart from the answer I've given below, long story short -yes, it's as straightforward as coupling an electric (digital) keyboard with a laptop on which you have Sibelius. What is not as straightforward is that silent keyboards are generally less realistic to the touch, and cheaper, than sound producing keyboards. Another thing to consider, which my answer covers, is alternative software solutions, since Sibelius has a steep learning curve, it might be "overkill". – Agnes K. Cathex Dec 15 '18 at 12:46
  • Also, if she wants to hear what she's playing as she plays it, and the keyboard is not sound-producing or the difference between the keyboard and the computer sounds is too annoying, you would need a way to eliminate latency. This can be done through ASIO-capable hardware or ASIO-simulating drivers. If this turns out to be relevant for you I can write an answer or point you to resources with more detail. P.S. One last consideration is whether she'll enjoy a digital keyboard as much and feel as comfortable improvising on it. That's always a hitch without spending a lot of money. – Luke Sawczak Dec 15 '18 at 16:06

Sibelius offers 'Flexitime input'. It is meant to detect the tempo of freely-played music from a MIDI keyboard and create notation. In reality, this doesn't work outside laboratory conditions. What you CAN do is turn off the 'flexi' feature and play VERY accurately to the click. If you know what notation you want, this can help get it down on paper. But it's not as useful as you might hope, and it certainly won't auto-magically produce idiomatic piano notation.

Try ScoreCloud. https://scorecloud.com/

It's free, and makes, I think, the best attempt at capturing freely-played keyboard input to notation that is currently available.

But, unless her playing is very clear and simple, I fear you'll be disappointed. Sorry. Music transcription is still a job for a skilled musician. The computers aren't quite there yet.

P.S. Sibelius now comes in three flavours. 'Sibelius First' is free and very basic. 'Sibelius' is the 'lite' version, previously called 'Sibelius First'. I'm not sure if it has Flexitime. 'Sibelius Ultimate' is the full version, what used to be called just 'Sibelius'. Yes, a ridiculous re-use of established names meaning something different, I agree.

  • Of course, capturing the performance data so the improv isn't lost is easy. Notating it in a given time signature is hard. – Luke Sawczak Dec 15 '18 at 14:54
  • @LukeSawczak - If by "capturing" you mean "leaving all the inadvertent tied 64th notes and ugly tuplets in", then yes, it's easy. – Dekkadeci Dec 15 '18 at 16:53
  • 1
    @Dekkadeci I do; I'm referring to the pure MIDI data, not to any standard notation system. When I just want to get a sketch down, that's often what I do. Then I know I can come back and tweak and quantize and whatnot, but before trying to box it into good traditional notation a human could read, I just want to make sure the idea or the emotion isn't lost. :) While it does sound like the OP wants notation as an output, they shouldn't be intimidated by the difficulty of getting perfect notation if the core concern is to capture the girl's playing (at least as a starting point). – Luke Sawczak Dec 15 '18 at 16:59

Ableton Live |-> (a serious DAW - digital audio workstation software used for composing, live performance, mixing and recording, post-production, etc., compare it with Cubase |-> and Logic |->) has in the recent years started implementing "audio to midi" feature.

So far it implements the following:

  • Melody to MIDI
  • Harmony to MIDI
  • Drums to MIDI

(MIDI |-> is the lowest common denominator when it comes to recording notes, it's a protocol, a language, a file format and a published standard originating in 1983; the essential thing to note is that by "lowest common denominator" I mean it is a very old format that facilitates interchange of notes between virtually all semi to professional music software, scoring or production)

The most useful of these is the "Melody to MIDI", which assumes "monophonic" (single-voice) recording.

I assume, if you give it a simple enough recording, it will be able to automatically transcribe the notes for you. There might be other "open-source (free or gratis)" solutions out there, but this is in general quite an uncharted territory yet.

As far as "notation" software (which essentially deals with visual aspects of publishing), MuseScore |-> is so far gratis (although somewhat less intuitive than old-time favorites such as Sibelius and Finale |->).

Ableton Live, as opposed to Cubase and Logic, does not provide scorewriting capabilites, and there is quite a good implementation of those in said programs (think of it as "lightweight" scoring functionality integrated into a music recording system).

Thus, the question you are probably going to ponder over is about whether you need more intricate scoring capabilites, whether you need publishing capabilities at all, and whether the creative process is more "theoretical" (i.e. paper and pencil, notation software) or more "practical" (i.e. automatic recording of notes, voices and instruments with recording software).

Post scriptum - Logic (also called Logic Pro, acquired by Apple in 2006) is Mac only, but recently, they reduced the price for the whole package to $200. You get a lot of stuff for that, trust me on that one. So if you own a Mac, and can spare $200, it's kind of an essential music making tool. Ableton Live, on the other hand (as well as Cubase) are both Mac and Windows, so that is also somthing to consider (apart from the price, by which Apple takes the cake, for reasons unknown to me)

  • 1
    Apple is losing the 'creative' market because of its capricious hardware design policies. I guess it feels musicians must be bribed to stick around. – Laurence Payne Dec 15 '18 at 14:21
  • True - so is Avid though... But I believe the software that predates Avid and Apple's prosumer market segmentation justifies itself. – Agnes K. Cathex Dec 15 '18 at 14:30

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.