Synchronizing mp3 songs to drum tracks


Detailed help on importing internet drum tabs, creating synchronizes lyrics and synchronizing mp3 files to the drum track can be found at in the TabTrax help file. This is summery of the steps involved:

  1.  Go to the network tab in TabTrax, enter the name of the band and the song you want and choose ‘Search 911tabs’. When you find the best drum tab available (look for version number and rating) for the song, click in the browser URL bar, Ctrl-C to copy the URL to the clipboard and on TabTrax, press ‘Load tab from URL in Clipboard’
  2. In the imported tab, click on the song header. Check the Band/Artist name and Song title is correct. Press the MP3 button and locate the mp3 file for that song on your computer.
  3. IMPORTANT: DO NOT ASSUME THE TAB IS PERFECT OR THAT TABTRAX IMPORTED IT PERFECTLY. In fact, in most cases there will be errors in the tabs and TabTrax probably did not correctly interpret all of the tab writers intent correctly. In particular, every tab writer has their own way of indicating bar repeats and TabTrax cannot always understand what the tab writer intended.For this reason, I recommend you copy and paste the tab into a text file using notepad or wordpad, and add some comments to help navigate the tab. In particular I find it useful to mark the bar numbers that TabTrax will use at the start of each line of the tab text file. Many songs have long intros before the drums start so it is best to follow the guide below about finding the start point of the drumming part of the tab. Once you have done that, carefully read the tab and try understand the repeat loop structure of the tab, then mark the bar numbers that you expect TabTrax to use. Note that a repeat bar in TabTrax counts as a single bar, NOT the number of repeats. When synchronizing mp3s to drum tabs it is vital the bar structure of the drum track follows the song, and the best starting point is to verify TabTrax has interpreted the tabbers intent correctly.
  4. Find the lyric for the song. Copy and paste them into a .txt file in the same folder and with the same name as the mp3 file. Add extra pseudo lyrics like ‘FIRST DRUM’, ‘LAST DRUM’, ‘INTERLUDE’, ‘BREAK’ etc to the lyrics file to help you identify parts of the song in the mp3 overlay display.
  5. Use the ‘Lyric Sync…’ feature on the Properties tab to synchronize the lyrics to the mp3 file.
  6. Back on the Home tab of TabTrax, click ‘MP3 sync’. You will see the mp3 audio and lyrics visually overlaid on top of the drum track.
  7. Use the Left/Right arrow keys to line up the pseudo lyric ‘FIRST DRUM’ with the first drum hit of the song.
  8. Play the song from the beginning to verify that the mp3 song first drum hit and the drum track do indeed line up.
  9. After verifying the first drum hit is synchronize, hold the mouse over the first clear note of the drum track and press the ‘A’ key to create an anchor point.
  10. Play the song from this point and listen or watch to see if the tempo lines up. If the drum track is out of sync with the mp3, it is quite difficult to hear what is going on. It is better to mute the drum audio (‘M’ key) and watch the playback cursor as you listed for the drum beats in the song. You should be able to see the drum beat on the mp3 track like in this example below of a synchronized.
  11. When you first import an mp3 file into a drum track, it is most likely out of sync like this:
  12. To fix this hold the mouse over a bar and use the Left/Right keys to move the notation until it lines up with the drum hits on the mp3 file. Don’t expect every drum hit on the mp3 file to line up perfectly with every note in the drum track (unless the mp3 file was recorded with a drum machine). Human drummers (even Neil Peart it turns out) will never hit every note at exactly the right time.
  13. Using the Left/Right keys like this changes the tempo (bpm) of the drum track. Also notice that the notes at the anchor point did not move, that is why the anchor point is there, to lock in a known sync point.
  14. Another useful tool when you have a section of a song properly synchronized, is the lyric upload feature. Hold the mouse over a bar with a lyric below it and press the ‘L’ key to upload a lyric from the mp3 lyrics file to the drum track. When you save the tab, the lyric will appear in the Lyrics navigation panel. You can click on these lyrics to jump around the song quickly.
  15. The farther away you move from the tempo setting bar at the start of the track (bar 1) the larger is the effect of changing the tempo. Each press of the Left/Right key changes the tempo by 0.1bpm. This is not a lot in the few bars following the tempo set but can be too much to accurately fine tune synchronization after about 50 bars or so. In the above image, on bar 30, moving the tempo by 0.1bpm moves the mp3 notes by about 1/32 note. (Note that in reality, the mp3 isn’t moving at all, the drum track is moving relative to the mp3 track. Its like sitting on a train as it pulls out of the station, it looks like the station is moving but in fact, the train you are on is moving).
  16. The way to fix this problem is to go back to an earlier bar where you are confident the synchronization is perfect. It usually a good idea to find a bar where there is a natural break in the song, of the start of a chorus, of somewhere significant in the song. In this example ‘Holiday’ by ‘Green Day’ there is a break at the end of each chorus which is very easy to see.
  17. It is a good idea to ‘lock in’ the tempo at this bar. The tempo that was set in the first bar has set the tempo for the whole song up to this point; but in latter bars it starts to go out of sync and fine tuning the tempo has too big an effect to fix it. By locking in the tempo, in this case on bar 37, that synchronization point will stay locked in that position, even if you change the tempo in following bars. To lock the tempo set point at this bar, hold the mouse over the bar and press Ctrl+Up/Down keys to jog the tempo up of down by 0.1bpm.
  18. Notice that the bar number, tempo and time display above the bar has changed from light red (pink) to darker red to indicate this is hard tempo change bar now. You can now go forward a few bars and check sync. If you jog the tempo to get synchronization, you will notice that you have better fine tuning control and you will not accidentally change the tempo on sections you have already synced.
  19. You may notice that some older songs and live recordings are are often recorded without a click track and the tempo can change a lot throughout the song. Most modern songs are recorded with a click track and in the studio, advanced digital tools are use to fix minor tempo drifts so the tempo should not need so much fine tuning.
  20. Also, do not assume that the drum tab is always correct or that TabTrax has imported it perfectly. Importing tabs in not an exact science since the way people write tabs is personally preference thing, there are no rules. TabTrax makes it best effort to figure out what the tabber wanted to say, but sometimes gets it wrong. In particular, TabTrax may miss repeat bars and places where, for example, the tabber writes the tab for the chorus one time, and subsequently writes [Chorus]. TabTrax doesn’t pick up on this so you manually have to find the chorus, select the chorus bars (or the missing repeat bars) by dragging the mouse over the bars, and pressing Ctrl-C to copy. Then go to the place to insert, click at the start of the bar and press Ctrl-V to paste.
  21. When you think you have got the song basically synchronized visually, turn the drum audio back (‘M’ key or MIDI volume slider on top ribbon bar ) and play it back.
  22. You may need to go back and fine tune some sections. There are several ways to navigate around the song quickly. The escape key will always take you back to the start of the song. The return key will take you to the last insert cursor or to the marker position. A marker is like a book mark, to set it, hold the mouse over any bar and press the ‘X’ key (X marks the spot). 
  23. Also, clicking on a lyric will take you that bar.
  24. Many tab on the internet will have loops (repeats and alternate ending loops). TabTrax usually imports these loops and saves them in the drum track like in the example below, ‘Freewill’ by ‘Rush’. Loops are nice because they help you understand the structure of the song better but they are not much help when synchronizing mp3 files. If you prefer a linear drum track (no loops), press the ‘Unroll loops’ button. The song will be exactly the same as before but more displayed bars as each bar is spelled out in time order. Note that you ‘cannot put the genie back in the bottle’. The bar repeat structure from the tab will be lost. There is another button above it ‘Roll Loops’ but this only works on simple repeat bars, it does not detect alternate end groups.
  25. Another useful tool (new in version 4.0.15), is the beat finder tool in Audacity. Click “Audacity” in the Controls tab (previously called Properties) while on a song with a mp3 file attached. In Audacity, go to the ‘Analyze’ menu and select ‘Beat Finder’. NOTE, you will probably want to zoom the display in using the ‘+’ magnifying glass button.
  26. In the Beat Finder, experiment with values for ‘Threshold percent’ until you find a value that  correctly finds the main base and/or snare drum beats of the song.
  27. The beats are named ‘B’ by default. Because there are so many of them, TabTrax does not display the ‘B’ but will display other letters. TabTrax only displays one letter or the display would be too full and hard to read. You can change the name of the label from ‘B’ to something more helpful, like ‘C’ for Crash, ‘S’ for Snare, or anything you like, so they will be displayed in TabTrax.Then save the beats to a file so TabTrax can use them. On the File menu select ‘Export Labels…’.
  28. Make the file name the same name as the mp3 file name (and in the same folder) but add “-beats.txt”. If you have a lyric file already created, you should see the lyric file as mp3songname.txt in the file browser, so just add, ‘-beats’ to that. Do not save it as mp3songname.txt (i.e. without the -beats) because the beats format is not compatible with the lyric format.
  29. Back in TabTrax, click ‘Mp3 Sync…’. NOTE, if you are already in Mp3 sync mode, TabTrax does not automatically reload the lyrics and beats files. To force TabTrax to reload, click Mp3 On/Off and then Mp3 Sync on. Mp3 sync off and on only will not reload it either. I guess I should fix that! In the zoomed up display below (Ctrl+Mouse wheel) you can see the ‘C’ beat (ok, its not a crash cymbal, its just there for explanation) and the ‘B’ beats without the name.Using the beats file, it should be easy to accurately sync the tab to the mp3 file or tab your own songs.
  30. Both the lyric and beats files are plain text files that can be edited manually with wordpad or notepad for fine tuning the details. Just follow the format exactly as you see it and notice that time codes in the lyric files are in minutes and seconds and the beats file, in seconds.
  31. And now the most important thing. When you have synchronized an mp3 file and imported the lyrics, played it back and it sounds great, you have made something very useful to other drummers. Please go to the Network tab and ‘Upload current tab to web’. I usually change the name of the song by adding (mp3 sync) to the name. This way, when people look in the Remote File folder, they will know that song has an been checked and synchronized to the actual song.
  32. If you have comments or suggestion for improvements about this document or the mp3 sync tools, please comment below.

Slowing down songs while maintaining original pitch

In TabTrax you can play back the drum tab at any speed and if mp3 overlay or mp3 sync mode is enabled, the mp3 audio will slow down or speed up to match the speed of the drum track. However, simply slowing down or speeding up a song is probably not want you want to do because that will also change the pitch and make it hard to understand what is happening with the music.

Fortunately, TabTrax (v4.0.20 and above) and Audacity has a cool feature that allows you to slow down a drum track and mp3 audio and keep the same pitch. When you have an mp3 file assigned to a drum track, you can open Audacity by going to the Controls tab and clicking Audacity.

In Audacity, go to the Effects menu, choose ‘Change Pitch…’

In ‘Change Pitch…’, choose Percent Change: 100% and hit OK. This will double the pitch and allow TabTrax to slow down the song by 50% while keeping the same pitch. Note that only 50% slowing down is supported in this mode. If you feel that other speeds are necessary, please email me.


Now if you play it back it will sound like the band is on too much caffeine and helium but no problem, it will sound fine when slowed down. Now you need to save that, so go to File menu and choose ‘Export…’. Export the file as mp3 but change the name of the mp3 file by adding ‘-pitch100’.


Now you can close Audacity and go back to TabTrax. On the Controls tab, select ‘Pitch Shift’ in MP3 extras. Now when you change tempo, you will only get 2 choices, 50% and 100%. If you choose 50%, TabTrax will load the audio for THE_SONG-pitch100.mp3 and the drum track and the audio will play back at 50% tempo BUT because of the pitch shift, the mp3 audio will sound the same as the original, only slower.

Note that in all other respects it will be as the original, the tempos, time codes etc. will all be as the original 100% tempo song, only playback speed is altered.

Playing the drum track sound with the slowed down mp3  can sound very confusing. It is probably better to mute the drum track (MIDI) in slow speed mode and just use the mp3 audio and visual clues to find check the drum hits are in the correct position.

There is a video here that shows slow play in action.


Analyzing your drumming accuracy and playing style

TabTrax 4.0 provides powerful tools for drummers to analyze their accuracy and playing style using the mp3 overlay feature.

Create or download a drum track or drum lesson (there are many Modern Drummer lessons available at lessons Drummer/).

Practice the lesson or track with TabTrax. When you are ready, record your own playing on your computer with audacity. Audacity is a free tool that lets you record audio, edit it and save to mp3.

Import the mp3 file and synchronize it to the drum track as described in the help file.

Look carefully at the display to see and hear how close you are to the computer generated beat of TabTrax.

TabTrax 4.1 (April 2013) will have more advanced features to record your drums directly into TabTrax and provide statistical data about your performance.



Tabbing songs (writing drum tabs) with TabTrax

TabTrax 4.0 provides many useful tools for tab writers to easily and accurately tab songs.

The main tools are described in the mp3 sync description above. Once you have mastered mp3 synchronization of a few songs to an existing drum tab, you will quickly see how the same tools an be used to write your own tabs.

In addition to mp3 sync tools already described, there is a feature on lyric sync which can be used for mapping out the basic bar structure of a song. If you create an empty lyric file for an mp3 song, and use the lyric sync tools described here, you will notice that as you click the add button, a new lyric is created with a number. In the ‘Auto lyric text’ box on the bottom left, you can optionally add text like ‘bar: ‘ so the lyrics ‘bar: 1’, ‘bar 2’ will be created for each click of the add button.

Using auto lyric, you can tap out the start of each bar. Once you have created a lyric file, save and go back to mp3 sync mode. To create an empty drum tab, either press the ‘Ins’ key at the start of the first bar many times or create a repeat bar and unroll. Or copy and paste empty bars.

Set the start point and tempo of the drum track so it matches the bars you have identified in the lyric sync. If your song has time signature changes, you should be able to see them in the bar lyrics.

Once you have a bar structure that mirrors the song, it should be relatively easy to tab the drum notes. The easiest way to add them is with the virtual drum kit.


Also, please see for info about slowing down the song.

When you have created the tab, go to the file menu and select ‘Export Tab’. Please check the format, I haven’t used that feature in a long time and not sure how current it is with current ‘standards’.

And please credit TabTrax in the tab if you upload to a tabs site and let me know, I can refund some of your purchase price for TabTrax. Thanks, Steve.






Triplets in TabTrax

The most frequent question I get about TabTrax is how to create triplets. Hopefully this information will make it clear.

To create a triplet, start by creating 3 notes at equally spaced time intervals, for example, 3x 1/16th notes, 3x 1/32nd notes etc.

Note that, there can be more than one ‘note’ at a position, like in this example where there is a crash and a snare at position 1.

Select the 3 notes by dragging the mouse, on the count bar, over the 3 notes.


Now hit the triplet button on the ribbon bar at the top of TabTrax or press the ‘T’ key.

However, if you are adding notes with the virtual drum kit (which is the easiest way), you will notice that when you enter the 3rd note of the group, the triplet button on the drum kit highlights (purple).

You can press the ‘T’ key now or press the triplet button and the 3 notes will become triplets. Also the cursor will be in the correct position to start your next notes if you are making a sextuplet.

Once you create a triplet, you cannot edit the notes inside the group. To do that you must ‘uptripletize’ it. Select the triplet group and press ‘T’ again. Note that this will make the group wider which can be a problem.

In this example, the final snare of the 1st triplet group is now on at the same position as the base drum. You can edit the notes in this position but now it will be difficult to make the triplet group again because the last snare is in another group. To avoid this problem, temporarily move the 2nd triplet group to the right. The easiest way to do that is place the cursor on the 1st note you want to select and do Ctrl+ left mouse to select to end of bar. Then use the right arrow key to move the selected group to the right.

Now select the triplet group and press the ‘T’ button to un-tripletize the notes.

In this position, it is possible to edit the notes.

To make a swing pattern, place a rest in the triplet group. To add a rest, place the insert cursor and press the tab key.

Now you can tripletize the swing group.

The only thing remaining is to move the 2nd triplet group and the notes following back to the ‘&’ . Place the cursor on at ‘a’ and Ctrl+left mouse to select to end of bar and 2 left arrow keys to move to correct position.



Understanding music notation for piano, guitar and drums

Piano music notation

Historically, modern music notation was created for keyboard instruments like piano. Notation is displayed on 2 staffs (or staves), one with a treble cleffs for the right hand and one with a bass cleff for the left hand. Middle C (261.626Hz) which is roughly in the middle of the piano keyboard and is shown between the two staffs.

Guitar Music Notation

For guitar music, it is not necessary to show left and right hand staffs since your left and right hands have specific jobs, i.e. picking strings with your right and pressing on the fretboard with your left (unless you are left handed, or Eddie Van Halen). So it is usual to display guitar music on one staff only, using the treble cleff (or bass cleff for bass guitar). However, middle C (261.626Hz) on a guitar is roughly in the middle of the guitar note range, so displaying middle C int the standard position, i.e. below the treble cleff, would result in many notes being displayed below the staff lines, which would look ugly and inconvenient to read. .

For this reason, it is normal in guitar music to display middle C one octave higher than normal position, i.e. between the 3rd and 4th lines up on the treble cleff.

Also, because the guitar range does not comfortably fit on one staff, there is an added notation, 8va, which is used to show that a whole range of notes is played one octave higher or lower than drawn.

Drum Music Notation

Drums and other percussive instruments do not have notes. Therefor the position of the “note” on the staff line is somewhat arbitrary. Drum staff do not use cleffs, instead they show two vertical lines.By convention (in the U.S. and U.K), the snare drum will be displayed where the C note normally lives, the bass drum on the bottom line (E) and the cymbals on the top line (F).

Since drums are played with both hands and feet, the direction of the tail (up or down) is often used to indicate the hands or feet, hands being tails up and feet, tails down (but this is not always the case and in TabTrax it is configurable). In any case, drum music display is a little different to other instruments because the tails up notes and the tails down notes are often independent of each other. In piano music, there are 2 staves, one for right hand and one for left, in drum music there is only one stave so by convention, tails up notes are used for hands and tails down for feet and just like in piano music, they are independent of each other.

Please stay tune for more on this exciting subject when i have more time to write.