Software/app to transcribe music from digital piano?
May 1, 2022 10:44 AM   Subscribe

My husband loves toodling around and casually composing on his digital piano. He often comes up with musical phrases/themes/hooks etc on the fly that he really likes and swears he'll remember next time.....but then can never recapture them. For his birthday, I'd love to gift him something that will quickly, easily, and accurately transcribe his musical doodling so that he can actually build on his creations from session to session.

Key considerations are convenience/ease of use (if it's a big rigmarole to set up, it likely won't be worth it for his very brief and very casual use cases), and ability to just listen to and transcribe what he plays on the piano, rather than him having to recreate on a virtual keyboard on his laptop (so something like Spotify but for transcription). Does this exist? If not, what might be close?

If its helpful to know:
- he has an extensive musical background, so doesn't need something for beginners, but he is definitely a hobbyist and not a professional or a seriously dedicated amateur, so things with a huuuuuge learning curve or extensive recording/remixing/etc features are not necessarily the best for his purposes (but maybe they are? I don't know!)
- the electric piano he uses is a Kawai CN37. It appears to have a usb port built in, so if there's something that connects directly to the piano that does what I want, even better!
- he has an iPhone, PC, and a non-Mac laptop
- he is very comfortable with computer-y things, so assume a good level of technological competence
- cost of this software/app/tool is not really an object, so willing to pay for something that works seamlessly and well.
posted by Dorinda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
That piano has a built-in recorder, so he could just use its internal capabilities. But if the desire is to have more control or editing capabilities, The easiest thing would be to run a cable from its USB port to the laptop, and capture the performances in some software like Ableton Live (the Lite version would be sufficient) or Reaper. Reaper is $60, but you can use it as long as you want for free to evaluate it.

You could spend more money, but for his minimal needs, it would just be a waste. And, all of this stuff adds another level of complication. If you're worried about him having to set anything up, then the recorder that's already in the piano may be the best bet. If you envision him wanting to add other instruments to his compositions, then you'd have to go the software route. These programs have instruments built in (including more pianos) that he could use to add melodies or bass lines or whatever.
posted by jonathanhughes at 10:55 AM on May 1

The CN37's brochure indicated that the piano is fully capable of playing and recording in standard MIDI file (SMF) so you just need the right USB cable.

You will need to run a "DAW" (digital audio workstation) software on the PC side that will talk to the MIDI instrument. Those generally run in the hundreds, but as @jonathanhughes said, you probably don't need the expensive items. I'd also recommend the Ableton Live 11 Intro, which is $99.

I believe Sweetwater's sales engineers will be able to give you more specific recommendations, but obviously they lean toward the stuff they sell.
posted by kschang at 11:09 AM on May 1

Personally, I’d get a copy of REAPER ($60) and hook it up to the piano as a MIDI controller, then record the piece as MIDI. You can then either play it back with any virtual instrument (VST) loaded on the track—Spitfire LABS has a ton of good free ones—or have it convert the MIDI to standard musical notation if that’s what he wants.

You can also record the piece as plain audio using the USB connection into REAPER as well. (This is not substantially different from him saving voice memos on his phone.)

The Apple Music Memos app on iPhone is pretty cool—you can save notes on a track and it can auto-suggest bass and drum accompaniments. Not sure if it transcribes into standard notation, though.
posted by music for skeletons at 12:40 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

Does it need to be transcribed, or would it work just to record the audio and play it back? Voice notes on a watch or phone could work.
posted by umbú at 12:56 PM on May 1

Second recording midi into Reaper as a cheap/powerful/robust system for someone who is already very comfortable with music and computers. It's a bit of a hassle to get all set up and figure out a workflow that he likes, but it will just be a few clicks after that to have it endlessly 'record' his noodling as a midi file, which is essentially a way of digitally transcribing music (note start, pitch, loudness/velocity).

Also he should check out LilyPond, it's a cool system that can make very nice looking sheet music, and go back and forth between that and MIDI.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:37 PM on May 1

On the other hand, if money is no object, an iPad that can sit right on his music stand would be great, there are several great options there that could immediately transcribe his playing into sheet music as he plays, with minimal overhead and frustration.

That's honestly probably best from a traditional musicianship point of view (maybe, I'm just a hobbyist too)
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:45 PM on May 1

Ableton Live has a great feature where after you've played something you like it, it can retroactively capture what it was and throw it in a MIDI clip (for one to edit and reuse).
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 5:54 PM on May 1

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