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For years now, I’ve been using (and recommending) the app Transcribe for people trying to learn songs by ear.
It’s still a decent choice, but with each passing year, it gets a little further behind the times (and its interface has always struck me as unreasonably ugly).
Lately I’ve stumbled onto a new way of doing things that’s far, far better (and much easier on the eyes).
DAW + Notation App + ReWire
To do this, you’ll need a DAW like…
- Logic Pro X
- Ableton Live 10,
- Pro Tools,
- FL Studio,
- Studio One Professional,
- any other DAW with ReWire support (just search “[your preferred DAW’s name] ReWire”)
…and a notation app like:
What The Hell Is ReWire?
ReWire connects two music apps, passing audio & MIDI between them.
For example, let’s say you love Ableton Live 10’s Wavetable synth, but prefer to track in ProTools. You can connect the two apps with ReWire.
- Audio from Ableton would be routed to Pro Tools, allowing you to quickly & easily record Ableton’s sounds in your ProTools session.
- MIDI data (like the song’s tempo, which you might use to set the delay times) is passed from ProTools to Ableton, including any tempo changes.
- Starting, stopping, and looping are synchronized between the two apps. If you stop in one, it automatically stops in the other.
Cool Story Bro. But Why Would *I* Want To Use ReWire?
In our case, instead of sending a software instrument from one DAW to another, we’re going to synchronize our DAW with our notation app.
This allows us to:
- start & stop playback from either app
- have the notation app move beat-by-beat with the recording (even when we’ve slowed down and/or looped the audio)
- route the notation app’s playback to our DAW, allowing us to hear our transcription alongside the original audio.
When the exact phrase you’re transcribing is lined up in both apps, it makes the whole process vastly more streamlined.
And it drastically cuts down on transcribing errors—lockstep playback makes rhythmic inconsistencies pretty obvious, and hearing the playback of the source audio alongside the transcription audio helps surface any wrong notes.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll show how I do it with Logic Pro X & Sibelius. Some other pairings are easier to setup, but this is by far the easiest & most powerful combination I’ve used.
In our case, Logic is the “host” and Sibelius is the “client.”
- the audio output of Sibelius (ie the sampled “guitars” and whatnot) will show up on a dedicated track in Logic’s mix window
- the MIDI data from Logic will control Sibelius, allowing us to hit play in either application and have both applications play in lockstep (even when we’re looping or using Varispeed to slow down audio)
For as cool as it is, it’s not exactly obvious how to set it up.
Setting Up Logic
- “⌘-,” to open Preferences
- Preferences > Audio > ReWire Behavior > Live Mode
- hit “Apply Changes”
While we’re here, let’s enable Varispeed so you can slow down any tricky bits:
- View > Customize Control Bar and Display
- under “LCD” select “Custom” from the dropdown
- check the box for “Varispeed”
- now your tempo is adjustable by dragging the “Speed Only +/- 0.00%” up or down
Setting Up Sibelius
- go to Play > Performance > ReWire and select “Tempo Track”
- “⌘-,” to open Preferences
- Preferences > Score Position > During Play and Flexi-time, uncheck “Hide unnecessary tool windows”
- (this prevents MacOS from snapping focus to Sibelius every time you stop playback)
Each time you work on transcribing:
1. Make sure Sibelius isn’t running. (Quit Sibelius if it’s open.)
2. Launch Logic.
3. Open (or create) the project you want to work on.
4. type “x” to open the mixer window
5. “control-n” to “Create New Auxiliary Channel Strip” (can also be done by clicking the “Options” dropdown in the mixer window)
6. rename “Aux 1” to “Sibelius” by double clicking the “scribble strip”
7. on that channel strip, click input and select Sibelius from the dropdown
8. “⌘-s” to save
9. Now you can launch Sibelius.
10. By default, play will stop when you reach the end of the score in Sibelius. So go ahead and see how many measures are in the Logic project.
11. Add that many measures to your Sibelius score. Just hold down “⌘-b“. The number of measures in the score is displayed on the very bottom left of Sibelius.
That’s it—mildly tricky to set up, but makes transcribing so so much more enjoyable. To see this in action, check out the screencast video here.