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.

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