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How to transcribe songs


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How to transcribe songs.

Have a thing on how I transcribe songs, there used to be a few guides on this before but they’ve seemed to disappear over the years so here’s the tools I use and my general process.

First off I’d recommend these to get you started.

Giving these a read might also be helpful for the general info they provide on basic theory but you don't need to know too much to start out other than note durations, bpm and basic time signatures.  

The best thing you can do is just to give it a try and get started. If you’re reading this, stop putting it off and get on with it. Find a song ya like, start jamming out and write down how to play it. I thought this process was more difficult than it was at first and put off learning this for a while but once you get started you can learn your favorite songs without waiting for others to tab them first and you can pretty much play any song you want (guitar or not).

From there you’ll also be able to easily spot and fix errors in other peoples tabs allowing for your charts to generally be more accurate and in general you’ll start to listen to music differently and be able to notice more details you might've missed.

I can’t be too specific with how to actually tab things since the programs differ a fair bit but in general you’ll loop + slow a section and then go note by note comparing what you’re playing against the audio until you get it to match. Then once you think you’ve got it right you write it down in your tab program of choice and double check it.

Sometimes before starting on a song I’ll just loop the whole thing and improv to try to figure out some parts before starting to kinda get a feel for the song and get the scale down. It’s also just fun to jam out before starting the grind.

When starting out use any references you can find to help you, other tabs, covers, live videos, midi files and sheet music can all come in handy when starting out. I used to only tab songs off other peoples covers at first for a good while.

Tab software.

Guitar Pro 8 is pretty nice since you can sync the tab to the audio in there and bypass eof at the transcription stage. From there you can bake the bpm changes into the tab, export a midi and import that into eof to get the beatmap. After that Ctrl + Z to clean up the tab, export as gp5 and then import that into eof. It's got some handy eq features but while it is lacking in comparison to transcribe overall it's pretty good.

Tux guitar is fine too, but unless you use a specific build it doesn’t support slide out/ins or legato slides which can be a bit of a pain and I don’t like the interface. You can always fix these later in eof but it’s just extra work.

If you wanna go old school there’s nothing wrong with using notepad and ASCII for starting out since you can always port it into guitar pro later or stick it straight into eof.

Tonelib jam and gpa are a bit of a pain and aren't really designed for making tabs so I can't recommend them for actually writing stuff but might have other uses.


In most cases you’ll just have to pick between drop or standard tuning. Some artists will just use one or the other and you can use their other songs as a reference to kinda guess their tuning once you’re used to their style. If you can find a live video you can probably just use that as reference, it’s fairly easy to see if it’s in drop or standard by looking at how they play power chords on the lowest string. If you’re really stuck you can look at other peoples covers on youtube too, which I’d also recommend for starting out as they can give you a useful visual to work off without having to deal with the live camera moving constantly.

Once you’ve figured out if it’s drop or standard you’ve gotta figure out the lowest note. Once you think you’ve got it listen to the whole song and double check. You don’t wanna have to re-tab the whole song halfway in.

For non-guitar stuff you can pretty much use any tuning you feel works well since you aren't tied to artist accuracy for the tuning. For example, this song (tab) I had to use double drop D on a 7 string with the B tuned up to C because of the piano chords. Sure it'd be playable in B standard but a major pain in the ass and you'd never be able to make it sound good while actually playing it. In most cases for non-guitar stuff E or B standard will probably do fine but it all depends on the song. Feel free to experiment with open, capo or just mad tunings.

Other useful software (probably windows only)

EOF: You’ve probably already got this one but I like it for finding bpm. The estimate bpm feature works pretty well and for the few songs it doesn’t work on you can still use the beat markers/metronome to help figure it out manually. It’s also really handy for checking note durations/timings and its slow down audio feature is sometimes all I need to transcribe a song. Also the Alt + P, Alt + I hotkeys for phase cancellation and center isolation are pretty handy.

Anthemscore: I can’t really recommend this one as it only really works for fairly simple piano/orchestral/acoustic stuff. Great for clean parts or if you get stuck on chords though. When it does work it really works well and you can pretty much just copy the notes from that into guitar pro and re-transcribe it from midi to a playable song. The beatmap/bpm it generates is always ass and you can’t export a decent midi but this allows you to fix the tab as you go along. The spectrogram is also fairly handy, but to me it's just a nice bonus and not used too much.

For stuff like game/anime ost it’s pretty good though and a real help, you just need a pc with a decent amount of ram or to only use it on small sections that you get stuck on or it’ll complain.

Songs like this’ll work fairly well, but it’s not too great for bass.






Transcribe: In most cases all I use to transcribe a song is this, EOF and guitar pro. It’s got a looping feature, a bunch of eq presets, pitch shifting options, slow down feature, panning and note/chord guess feature. There’s a few other features but these are the ones I mostly use. I’ll loop a section, use the note guess and work off there. If I’m doing bass I’ll eq out everything except the bass and go from there. You can do most of this in audacity too but this is way more convenient so I’d easily recommend this.

Spleeter GUI: I use this since I couldn't figure out the standard spleeter cli. It's a neural network based audio splitter for separating audio tracks. The results aren’t too great and they take quite a while to generate but in some rare cases it’s better than eq. Since it takes so long to generate I barely ever use it but it might be handy in certain cases.


So yea I guess that’s it, get out there and tab some stuff. Any other useful software or tips LMK.

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Wonderful article, thanks!

Having previously transcribed for RockBand, I also suggest the use of stem separators like Spleeter, but be aware that sometimes some notes can end up in another stem so always remember to listen at the full audio afterwards.

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  • 9 months later...
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I've been using RipX DeepRemix for a while now and it is really useful for someone with bananas in their ears like myself.

I find it that it makes figuring out bass parts a lot easier, and the piano keyboard at the side is super useful for determining the pitches of notes.

I've tried spleeter exactly once, with a J-Pop song I've got in the works and its separated bass sounds like muffled low notes whereas in RipX it sounds like the actual bass.

It also displays chord guesses when the guitar layer is selected and automatically figures out the tempo/measures.

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