In my 60+ years playing music I have never transcribed a song from scratch SO I decided it was about time I looked into this before my time runs out.
First off, I think a lot of people are confused about the terms transcribing and transposing when it comes to songs.
To me transcribing is taking a song you have heard, and like the sound of, and creating the sheet music for it from scratch. The only thing you have to get you started typically are the lyrics and an MP3 sound file for the song.
Transposing on the other hand is taking a song and changing it to a different key. Usually the sheet music is already available for it.
If I am wrong in this thinking please let me know.
I decided to take a very simple song and transcribe it. The song I picked was Happy Birthday. Can’t get much simpler than that, or so I thought.
Armed with Pencil, Eraser, Manuscript paper, Transcribe and the free open source software MuseScore 3 and an MP3 file I set off.
Six hours later I had the score, with lyrics, finished.
Before anybody chimes in and says why bother with all this, you could just Google this and avoid the aggravation, I have to say that this was not the point of the exercise, the point was to create the sheet music from just an audio file and lyrics.
I realized several things, and learned many more, in those SIx Hours:
1 - You have to take the time to learn the software you are using.
2 - In this world where so many want instant gratification they will never be able to transcribe a song, they cannot find the sheet music for, because you need time, effort and patience.
2 - Transcribing is an art form.
3 - You really need at least a fundamental understanding of music theory.
4 - You start to realize why so many lead and tab sheets are wrong.
I found this experience to be quite satisfying, even relaxing, but not for the faint hearted but well worth the effort if you are willing to put in the time.
I had a request from a student last year to correct the lead sheet he provided for The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, written by Robbie Robertson and originally recorded by the Canadian-American roots rock group The Band. Initially when I looked at the lead sheet there were so many errors.
Now after my six hours transcribing Happy Birthday I was able to see where the errors were and correct them in about 2 hours. A lot of this time was because of some additional nuances in MusicScore 3 and Transcribe I had to learn.
So the bottom line is, like playing an instrument, you can do it but it is going to take effort on your behalf, time and patience.
For those interested here is a link to a complete free course on Justin Guitar for transcribing music.