Some of us old timers remember the days when our analog turntables had a 16 RPM feature that we used to slow down a 33 RPM LP (that’s like a big black CD) to a low pitched growl, so that we could try to figure out how the heck Earl got all those notes played with just 3 fingers. In our modern digital age, musicians have a wide variety of software tools to slow down sound clips without altering the pitch, and isolate individual breaks, licks or even note to aid in learning. The three programs reviewed here -Song Surgeon, Amazing Slow Downer, and Transcribe! all feature tools and controls to slow down and analyze musical passages to allow the user to easily convert those high speed breakdowns into easy-to- learn dirges. Some of them have many other features as well, but the emphasis of this review will be on the slow down features.
Each program installed easily from the publisher web site with no snags. There were the usual steps for unlocking the trial version to full, which involved cutting and pasting codes but nothing too complicated. Each program offers a limited trial version to allow you to install and try the program for a limited time at no charge.
Song Surgeon – There are shortcut buttons for all the regular features, a wave file display with time markers and a position slider, and a bottom sections with a combination of sliders and presets for Tempo, Zoom, Pitch and Loop controls. You select a portion of the wave file to set your loopback points, or you can click the Start and End buttons on the Loop Control section to set those points on the fly during playback. You can also set and enter looping sections from a menu, and set number of repetitions, and use a feature called Speed Trainer to gradually increase the tempo with every loop repetition.
Amazing Slow Downer – I liked the simple layout of the playback screen. All the controls are clearly marked and it was easy to get started without reading any help files. To select a passage for processing, you can set the start and end time manually with a few dropdown selections or a slider control, or you can just hit the Start Pt. and End Pt. buttons to set the markers on the fly while the file is playing. Speed, pitch, and left-right balance are also set with slider controls. The Cue slider allows you to easily navigate within your selected portion.
The Preferences tab on the Options menu allows you to set program defaults, input device options, and playback controls. There are loop control options to increase the speed with every loop repetition. Everything is easy to configure and self-explanatory. There is a 7 band EQ built in as well.
Transcribe! - The main display shows the wave file and a piano keyboard. You can select a point in the file and Transcribe can show the notes and chords (best guesses) on the keyboard display, or in a text window. The playback and file controls are standard button types, and the pitch and speed controls are sliders. Features, toolbars and other options are set from dropdown menus, with the most common ones also available from shortcut buttons. There are a LOT of features and options to consider, and you can customize the display to your personal preferences. The help files are very detailed, although a few pictures instead of verbal descriptions would be nice. The Loop controls allow you to select a passage for looping and gradually increase the speed every time the loop runs – very effective for practice.
All three programs will do a fantastic job of allowing you to slow down files for learning, loop specific passages, and help train you for better and faster playing. Song Surgeon is the most complete transcription and editing tool, but the user interface was just a little unfriendly, and required more references to the Help files and training videos to get into the advanced features. Amazing Slow Downer was the simplest and easiest to use, had a very friendly interface, but didn’t have all the advanced bells and whistles of the other two – which you may not need or want if you are just looking for a learning tool. Amazing Slow Downer without a doubt also has the best sound quality for the slowed down files. Transcribe! was somewhere in between the others – good transcription tools but not as full-featured as Song Surgeon, and good slowdown and looping tools but not quite as easy to use as Amazing Slowdowner.
I was impressed with all three programs and any one of them would be an excellent choice for advanced music learning. If you don’t need transcription or advanced editing tools, I’d give Amazing Slow Downer the nod for ease of use and sound quality. If you want the most advanced tools and are willing to invest some time in training videos and help files, go with Song Surgeon. If you want a neat program that do your loop training and can also “listen” to a passage and help you determine the correct notes or chords, Transcribe! is the way to go.6 comments
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Playing Style: Bluegrass (Scruggs)
Genre: Unknown/None Chosen
Playing Style: Bluegrass (Scruggs)
Playing Since: 1976
Experience Level: Expert/Professional
sdfarris has made 6 recent additions to Banjo Hangout
Occupation: computer application engineer
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Ibanez Artist w/ Tony Pass Woody TS rim (converted to open back);
Tranjo 6.0 w/ custom inlays;
TranjoCaster solid-body electric 5-string
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Day job - Senior application engineer (document imaging) for a large healthcare organization. Music: No regular gigs currently. Once in a while I play mandolin or electric bass on my church music team. I also make and sell the Tranjo travel banjo -- details at www.Tranjo.com , and electric TranjoCasters at www.electricbanjo.com .
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