Tag Archives: transcription

Ballet Piano Podcast transcript now available

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Logo of the Ballet piano podcast

Click here to go to the Ballet Piano Podcast (and transcript)

My enthusiasm and admiration for the Ballet Piano Podcast, which I posted about a few weeks ago, continues to grow. Talking to Matt Gregory the other day, I said that I might get round to transcribing one of the podcasts, for some people (I’m one of them) a transcript can be more accessible than listening—particularly, it occurs to me, if English isn’t your first language. Also, if you’ve heard the podcast and want to go back and find a particular passage, it’s much easier to search text than scrub through audio.  I also happen to love transcribing (if you think I’m kidding, see my eulogy to USB foot controls, and blog post on transcribing methods.  That’s one of the reasons I loved Kate Atkinson’s TranscriptionTranscribing is not a simple matter of taking down content by dictation, it raises all kinds of fascinating issues and questions along the way.

So when Matt mentioned that my name cropped up in this week’s podcast, I was too proud not to get straight down to transcribing it. Download the transcript of the latest podcast from the Ballet Piano Podcast here: 

Transcribing this podcast gave me a chance to reflect on just how good Ballet Piano Podcast is. It’s got David Yow as legendary experienced teacher (and also one of the most serene people I’ve ever worked for), three pianists, of whom one (Matt) is also a dancer, so you have a rounded and respectful view of both dance and music. There’s also a wealth of experience from both the vocational school and company side. To be really valuable, you need to know about both fields. 

If I’m really honest, I don’t really share this team’s enthusiasm for adage (see an older post for why) but I learned a lot from listening to (and transcribing) this podcast.  Trying to describe the difference between adage and ports de bras music is quite difficult in musical terms, but hearing David Yow describe it this way, made it so obvious: 

The fuller it [the music] is, the better, because that’s exactly what the movements are like, the biggest, the fullest movement that you can do.

If you’d asked a lot of musicians (or some teachers, who’ve been led to believe that you can categorize exercises by time signature), they’d say “a slow 6/8, like a barcarolle.”  I remember asking a teacher once what she thought adage music should be, and she said “it should express infinite hope.” Try finding that in your musical dictionary, but it’s inspired me for years. 

Ballet piano nerves

There is so much in the discussion that I can relate to. Here’s Akiko & Chris Hobson talking about the sheer physical and mental effort of playing for classes in new situations:

Akiko: I remember when I started, I played for one class, you know, one hour and a half or so. After one class, I was so tired, I was so hungry, and I just wanted to have a nap.

Chris:  I still get nervous now, if I’m going to a new company where I know I don’t know the ballet master and I might not know any of the dancers, I still get nervous, maybe two decades in, I don’t think it’s ever going to leave.

As I heard that, I remembered a time a few years ago when I was playing for a visiting company in London. It was just four days when I had to turn up, play for an hour or an hour and a quarter around lunchtime, and then I was free. In theory, perfect for someone who needs several hours in the day to do a PhD. But no: from when I woke up til when class started, I fretted about what I was going to play, and who for (it was three different teachers over four days, none of whom I’d worked with before). And when I’d finished, I was so exhausted mentally (and already thinking about how to make the next day interesting), that it was difficult to settle to anything else afterwards. It was a long time before I realized that summer schools are so exhausting, even if your workload is light: it’s not the number of hours, it’s the intensity of having to instantly form effective working relationships with several new people. It’s a strain for the teacher as well, who also has to deal with the new group of  dancers in front of them, and sometimes as a pianist, it feels like you’re the lightning conductor for the tension in the room.

A Dance Class Anthology

Picture of "A Dance Class Anthology"

A Dance Class Anthology—now back in print, and available from RAD Enterprises Ltd

One last thing: it’s worth mentioning that The Dance Class Anthology, which Chris Hobson mentions towards the end of the podcast, is now back in print again, and available from the RAD Enterprises—though until the Covid-19 lockdown ends, they can’t dispatch any orders. 

 

 

How to transcribe from audio to piano score: technologies and process

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Transcribing music from audio to score is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember, if you count those music dictation tests we had to do at school. I’m lucky that I’ve got perfect pitch so the actual transcribing is fairly easy: what’s difficult when you’re using a computer is the mechanics of rewinding, stopping and starting while you’re trying to do the transcription.  However, the technology I’ve got at the moment is the best I’ve ever had, so I thought I’d share the process in case you’re struggling needlessly. The same technology would also be pretty good if you’re having to go through video clips (dance notators, maybe?).

transcribe-1

That’s the kit above – no real surprises: a MIDI keyboard, a laptop, headphones. I use an external keyboard with a numeric keypad on it, because it makes step-input in Sibelius so much easier and quicker). Transcribing is also one of the rare activities where I find a mouse is useful rather than a trackpad.

USB footpedals: the secret to transcribing music from audio to score painlessly

The Infinity USB Foot Control

The Infinity USB Foot Control

The killer tool though, is the USB footpedal under the table (which means that I also needed to get a USB hub to accommodate the extra USB input).  I’ve already posted about this in relation to transcribing text interviews, but at the time I wrote that, I hadn’t yet used the set up for transcribing music.

The process is simple: ExpressScribe is a free programme for transcribing audio (there’s a paid version, but even though I’ve got it, I can’t see the point). You load the audio (music) file in just as you would if you were going to type up an interview (except this is music) and you use the footpedal to play, rewind and fastforward the audio, leaving your hands free to use the MIDI and computer keyboards. You can set the footpedal to automatically rewind let’s say half a second or a second when you lift your foot off the “play” bit, so that when you press it again, you’ve already rewound to the bit that you are trying to check or remember.

You can also get ExpressScribe to play slower without altering pitch – brilliant when you’re transcribing a stream of semiquavers, for example. If you’re lucky, and the recording is relatively clear and the music simple, you can get the speed just right, so that you can actually input with your left hand (in my set up at least) at the same speed as the music is playing.

Now meet TRANSCRIBE! (application) 

I have used ExpressScribe for nearly five years, but for some reason, just recently the program has begun to lose focus intermittently while I’m transcribing. You have to go into ExpressScribe and click to make it register the pedal messages. It only takes a split second (alt-TAB into the programme and click the screen, then alt-TAB back to Sibelius), but it’s really annoying, and so the other day, I went on the hunt for another programme, and found this: Transcribe! I’ve used it for a few days, and I’m blown away by it.  It has all the tools that ExpressScribe has, except – sorry old friend – it works better. It doesn’t lose focus, and it displays the audio file, allows you to enter text at key points (with one-letter key commands to enter hitpoints and text). It also has a guess at chords and notes in your file, and presents you with a piano roll, and a keyboard (if you want to see it) with those guesses on. That’s far more than I need, and doesn’t really help the way I work (which is by ear, rather than using the technology to “hear” for me), but it’s bloody clever, all the same, and it’s fairly accurate. I love it. It’s $39 US, but with a fully functioning 30-day free trial. OK, it’s not free like ExpressScribe, but I reckon it’s worth it.

The screen looks complex, but you don’t even need to see it, if, like me, you just want Transcribe to work as a tape-control in the background, operated by your footpedal.

thinkingoutloud

The Transcribe window- you can have as much or as little of this as you need.

Transcribing from video

If you want to transcribe from a Youtube video, then just download the video first using an extension or add-on for your browser, and import the video clip into Transcribe. You get a little video screen that shows the video in realtime as you play: handy if you want to put cues in a score, and of course, since the screen has a text area, you could write those cues into Transcribe! itself.

minuetvideoAnd although I don’t need to see the screen at all (since I’m using the footpedal to control it, and can hear where I am) there are times when it’s handy to have both on at once.

splitscreen

 

Don’t be put off by the screens and the software: the magic in all this is the footpedal. It’s like having an extra pair of hands, so to speak, and when you go back to trying to operate the transport controls and Sibelius with the same pair of hands, you realise what a waste of time that is.

 

Happiness is a USB foot control

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The Infinity USB Foot Control

I don’t think I have loved a piece of technology more than I currently love my new Infinity USB foot control.  I’m  transcribing hours of interviews for my dissertation, and although I type fast, it’s been a very slow process, because the transport controls on iTunes have little finesse, and you need to keep switching focus on the screen, move your hands to stop and start and so on.  Oh for the days of transcription machines which had foot pedals (I used to temp as an audio typist between music jobs, and I loved them).

Searching around the net on Saturday, I read an article about a poor bloke who had spent 40 hours transcribing one hour of audio because he didn’t know about digital transcribing machines (i.e., these days, foot pedal + software).  That’s me I thought, and read on.

Within minutes, I’d ordered an Infinity USB foot control (£47) from Amazon, and downloaded the free transcription software Express Scribe. The pedal arrived yesterday, and the results are amazing. If you’ve ever had to do it, you’ll share my enthusiasm: I transcribed about 15 minutes of audio/3,000 words in well under an hour and a half, and I was getting faster all the time. I’ve also now downloaded the open source QDA software TAMS analyser , which is one of the few programs of its type to work with Mac, and it’s free. (Mentioning no names, but how can you charge $800 dollars for a Windows only program these days? Bloody hell.)

For me, interfaces are much more interesting than the technology behind them. We’re already at a stage where computers can do stuff quickly, and have been for a long time. The challenge now is to find the interfaces which enable us to interact with the technology efficiently and in meaningful human ways.  Frankly, whoever conceived a computer without a foot-control was an idiot: what missed opportunities. Laugh if you like, but I’m saving myself hours and hours that I shall spend doing something more interesting than pointing and clicking at a screen.

For the record, my transcription toolkit, which works brilliantly

  • Apple iPhone voice memo recorder for interviews (+ iTunes to import audio)
  • Macbook
  • Logic Studio (to enhance audio, though there are easier options)
  • Express Scribe transcription Software
  • Microsoft word
  • Infinity USB foot control