Transposing a Song in Audacity (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 27 Feb 2024

Transposing a Song in Audacity

I've been learning guitar. I've tried several times in the past without much success, concluding that although I love music, making it is just not where my talents lie. But this time I'm following a course (Justin Guitar), doing things more or less in the recommended order rather than jumping around randomly. It's fun, and I'm practicing regularly and feel like I'm making progress.

So far I know about five chords, and surprisingly, there are a lot of good songs you can play with only three to five chords. But if you want to play along with a record, some songs need a capo (one of those little dinguses you can clamp around the guitar's neck) to map the chords to ones that are easy for beginners to play.

I don't have a capo. Justin Guitar has a phone app that supposedly can transpose songs, but I wouldn't know about that, because it doesn't work on my phone, just spins forever any time I try to load a song. But I do have a computer; can't I just take a recording and transpose it?

Yes! It's easy in Audacity.

Suppose I want to play "Somebody to Love" by Jefferson Airplane. To play that with A, D, Em and G, you put the capo on the second fret, meaning you're transposing up two semitones. Without a capo, I'll be playing too low, so I'd need to transpose the recording down two semitones.

Run audacity on the MP3 file, and type Ctrl-A to Select All. (Audacity isn't smart enough to figure you want to operate on a whole sound file at once; it will only operate on a selection.)

[Audacity's Change Pitch dialog, set to -2.00 semitones] Then call up Effect→Pitch and Tempo→Change Pitch...

Ignore the "from <key> to <key>" and just edit the Semitones field: if the capo is supposed to be on the second fret, set Semitones to -2.00.

If instead you want to play "Surfin USA" by the Beach Boys with easy chords, that needs the sixth fret, so set Semitones to -6.00.

Be sure to try Preview and make sure it's in the right key for your guitar. (Surfin' sounds really weird with the Beach Boys singing that low — but it's still a lot of fun play along with.)

You probably want to enable "Use high-quality stretching (slow)" as well. The song is going to sound a little weird anyway, but no need to make it weirder than necessary with low-quality audio.

Click Apply and wait a few minutes. When it's done, click Play to make sure it's still in the right key.

After verifying that it sounds okay, you can File→Export Audio..., choose MP3 Files (or whatever other format you'd prefer to use) and save it. No need to Save Project when you exit, unless you think you might want to make further tweaks later.

And now you have a file that lets you play along, without needing a capo.

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[ 14:06 Feb 27, 2024    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

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