Help me play difficult music by ear
February 14, 2010 7:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm a musician looking for basic software to slow down a song so I can figure out how to play difficult sections by ear. Difficulty: free and small preferred.

I don't need anything beyond that such as for writing sheet music or recording or anything. I just want to slow down MP3s I have so I can figure out the tough parts. I don't know if it's possible but preferably I'd be able to even "pause" on single notes and go note by note. If it could even tell me the notes (440 Hz, that's an A!) I'd be in heaven.

When I look at what's out there there are lots of very powerful and very expensive music packages out there like Finale and Sibelius and Soundforge and whatnot. I'm not in the market for a full blown scoring or recording package so I'd rather not shell out big $$$ just for this one feature.

Oh and also my main system is a Mac so OS X software is ideal! (Though if there's something really fantastic for Windows I'd love to hear about it.)
posted by Khalad to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I believe you can do that with Vox, which is free, and for sure with Capo, which is not.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:53 PM on February 14, 2010

Best answer: You can use Audacity to do it.
posted by fearthehat at 7:58 PM on February 14, 2010

Yup; I just checked. You can do it with Vox. It's under Window-->Effects-->Time Stretch or just hit "Cmd + 3".
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:58 PM on February 14, 2010

Open up Quicktime Player and choose Show A/V Controls from the Window menu. There's a playback speed option in there. I use half-speed to figure out tabs.
posted by january at 8:02 PM on February 14, 2010

Audacity can be used in Mac, although I think it's a beta and/or unstable version...or something.
But I use it. I know it does potentially open MP3s but you may or may now have to convert it first. If it's all a bunch of feedback you know you've gone wrong somewhere.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:04 PM on February 14, 2010

He probably wants to slow it down without altering the pitch ... or, rather slow it down, and alter the pitch to bring it back up to "normal." You can probably do that with audacity... slow it down, then bring the pitch up (in two separate operations.) If you half the speed and double the pitch, should work out ok. Smaller changes will be harder to figure out and get the tuning right.

Quite a few years ago, I bought one of these: Tascam CD GT-1" which is somewhat useful, though I have to admit, I haven't used it much (probalby due more to my own laziness than to any fault of the device.) It does do what it claims to do, and is easy to use. Drastic pitch manipulation will of course invariably and inescapably introduce weird artifacts into the sound, but for purposes of figuring out how to play things, that doesn't matter too much.
posted by smcameron at 8:30 PM on February 14, 2010

VLC media player is available for Mac, and the PC version at least has faster/slower capability, as well as looping under the advanced controls. Totally free. Doesn't change the pitch.
posted by larkspur at 8:31 PM on February 14, 2010

Though it's not free, GuitarPro is pretty useful for learning songs. You get both the tab and the actual music, and you can set it to play as fast or slow as you want it. Being able to play along and read the music at the same time is a pretty helpful feature.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:42 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like Transcribe! It's not free, but grants a 30 day trial.
posted by camneely at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2010

I use this Tascam product
works great just dont put more than 200 mp3s on it(it locks up) and the on/off button is fragile
posted by SatansCabanaboy at 9:06 PM on February 14, 2010

smcameron, Audacity lets you slow things down without altering the pitch -- I believe the effect is called "Change Tempo." No fancy footwork required.

Audacity opens MP3s without a problem on my machine (Mac), but it can't save files as MP3s. For the OP's purposes, though, it seems like output format doesn't matter.
posted by pluckemin at 9:30 PM on February 14, 2010

2nding VLC as an easy, free solution. The controls for playback speed are right there on the main player window.

VLC is handy to have around on your machine anyway since it will play just about any a/v format you throw at it.
posted by quarterframer at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2010

Audacity opens MP3s without a problem on my machine (Mac), but it can't save files as MP3s. For the OP's purposes, though, it seems like output format doesn't matter.

Audacity can export files as mp3s, at least on my Mac. Maybe I had to install some kind of plug-in to do so?
posted by 6550 at 10:11 PM on February 14, 2010

Yes, mp3 encoding is patent-encumbered and requires paying a licensing fee, and Audacity is an open source project that doesn't sell anything. So you need to acquire the mp3 plug in separately.

I use VLC for this myself. Its scaletempo plugin lets you adjust the rate at fine increments (e.g. 0.1 x) without affecting tempo, and it uses an algorithm that's much computationally cheaper than FFTs.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:34 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can check out the Amazing Slow Downer, which allows you to adjust the tempo without altering the pitch.
posted by matticulate at 1:36 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second Transcribe! As a Mac user, you might also have Logic already...

posted by Doggiebreath at 3:52 AM on February 15, 2010

I usually use GarageBand for this. YT demo
posted by Hlewagast at 8:14 AM on February 15, 2010

« Older Impact of the American Socialist Movement   |   Take any prime number, say, 27... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.