I started transcribing from vinyl records, a real pain... pressing my finger on the edge to slow it down a bit, trying to drop the needle on in the right place and lifting it off at the right time was quite a task. I was stoked when I got my first cassette player!! I was living the dream. Then along came CD's and it got easier again... but once I got a computer and started using transcribing software... WOW.
It really makes the task easier, to such an extent that I'd say someone starting to transcribe should absolutely get one of these and use it from the start. Yeah sure, real men transcribe from vinyl... ;)
All the applications below have variable speed control and pitch control which are the most important functions. Other things can be very helpful and useful but the most important thing is to be able to vary the pitch and speed.
Transcribe! ($39) Mac and PC
This is the software I have used for many years. It's simple, does what it needs to and because I've been using it so long it feels like I'm in proper control of it. It's not got as many features as some of the other programs, but it does me just fine, and sometimes keeping it simple is good. It has a great range of key commands available, looper function, EQ and Karaoke functions and markers.
This seems to be the industry standard which most of my professional transcriber friends use. I feel I should mention that I get a kickback if you buy this software, but I recommend it because it's the one I use!
Capo ($50) Mac Only
This is a much more modern version of transcribe with a lot more features. I've met the developer of this software (Chris) a few times and as well as being a lovely follow, he's into it, he wants to make his software great which gets my respect. I guess I've not switched fully because the Transcribe! feels like comfortable pair of old shoes after all these years and does all I need it to, but Chris has some pretty amazing features that will help you out, tab under the wave form and a kinda spectrum analysis thing that can help you tell what the notes are. Very cool indeed.
Audacity (FREE!) Mac and PC
This one is free, and that's worth something!! ;) I've not got into using it, but it's compatible for both Windoze and Mac and I've heard lots of good things about from students not wanting to spend money on software.
Reaper ($60 discounted non pro use) Mac and PC
Very popular with some of the forum crew and looks like some great features. I like the vibe of the developers too and will be checking it out myself in the future!
Click here to check out Reaper
While researching for this lesson I discovered a whole lot of other programs that are available that I've never heard of! Some of them might be awesome, but I don't have the time or desire to download and check them all out, but here are some other options if you want to explore further!
When I write TAB for books, magazines or this site I use the notation program program Sibelius. It's pretty good, not without fault and some of the guitar things are a real headache, but it looks great and on the whole I think is the best around for professional use. But it's not cheap.
In my opinion you should LEARN TO WRITE TAB BY HAND FIRST. If you start with a computer there and many problems (it will always want a rhythm to start with!) and it will take you far longer. You also will not learn the craft as well! To this day, ALL of my transcriptions are done by hand first and then put into Sibelius if I need to.
Some students like to use ASCII TAB which while having it's use for posting tabs online, I really, really, really don't recommend you starting by using this!! Same for Guitar Pro or any of the others. They are great to use for certain things, but don't use them for learning to transcribe! Use your hand ;)