I arrived at a point where I finally realized importance of transcribing stuff I like to help myself developing my sound and my music/lick vocabulary. But with just pen & paper at hands it results terribly difficult, for sure because I'm at the beginning of the process. So I was wondering, cause I'm pretty good using notation softwares, does transcribing with notation software (and so pressing 'play' everytime I want to check if I'm doing things good) help the same way as just with pen & paper? I think I already know the answer, but just wanted your opinions about it. Thanks!

3 Answers 3


I’d say it was the actual act of transcription which brings the most benefit to your musical development, and the medium is secondary. Recognising pitch, harmony, and rhythm, to a level where you can accurately notate it, is a huge benefit to developing skills.

Software playback is probably a quicker feedback loop, because computers do exactly what you tell them to do - so if you’ve notated a rhythm wrong, you’ll hear that straight away, whereas if you wrote it on paper and then play it back you know what you meant to notate and so won’t be getting the ‘independent ‘ verification that software playback provides.

Personally I often use pen and paper if I’m composing then transcribe that onto the computer to make it presentable, legible to anyone else, and distributable. If I’m notating a work from a pre-existing audio file I’ll usually go straight to computer.


Transcribing can be divided to (at least) two distinct phases: (1) identifying the notes (and techniques/expressions) played, their exact pitches and timings, and (2) writing the identified pitches and timings in musical notation, possibly trying to remove interpretation, mistakes and randomness to extract the essence of the musical piece. Phase 1 could be thought of as "transcribing from audio to MIDI" and phase 2 as "from MIDI to notation".

For phase 2, I don't think there's any software to significantly help you beyond the mechanical level. You have to know the culture and understand what is the essence of the music and how the notation should be written. You have to be able to predict, how the notation will be understood. The only help from software you'll get is for writing the notes, but to know which notes to write - that's a different thing. But for phase 1, identifying the pitches and their timings - that's much more mechanical, and there you can use tools and methods.

I've written about the tools and methods here: Tips on how to transcribe string parts from a song by ear


Transcribing into notation software (as distinct from attempting to auto-create notation from audio input - still a very undeveloped science) gives the opportunity of immediate feedback to check if you got it right. What's not to like about that?

Having said that, pencil and paper can be quicker when initially mapping out a transcription on the basis of 'put in what you're SURE of, then fill in the gaps'.

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