Blog – CANTE

Automatic transcription of flamenco singing

Why should we transcribe flamenco singing?

Unlike many other genres, flamenco is an orally transmitted art form: Songs were passed from generation to generation without having ever been written down in form of a musical score. Only a few manual transcriptions exist. Since flamenco performances are to the largest extend improvisational, automatic transcriptions are of minor importance for practicing musicians.

But: For music information retrieval (MIR) tasks, a compact but accurate melody representation is crucial for a number of related tasks, i.e. melodic similarity computation, pattern detection or style classification. The development for such tools sets the basis for user-oriented applications (how about “query by cante?”) as well as large-scale musicological studies.

Why is it so difficult?

Extracting a note transcription from an audio recording is considered one of the most challenging tasks in MIR. Flamenco singing is particularly difficult for two reasons: It is flamenco and it is singing.

A major difficulty of automatic transcription is the segmentation of a pitch contour into single notes. The singing voice is a particular challenging instrument to transcribe, since it is pitch-continuous and non-percussive. In flamenco music, we furthermore encounter a large amount of fast and unstable pitch fluctuations, i.e. vibrato, glissandi, micro-tonal ornamentations, melisma or tuning instabilities. Also, in most flamenco recordings the singing voice is accompanied a guitar, which poses an additional challenge.

How well does it work?

Automatic transcriptions are usually to a certain extend noisy. However, they are a great starting point for manual annotation and accurate enough for many technological applications and large-scale studies.

Here is an example:

Is there any free software?

The automatic flamenco singing transcription tool CANTE was developed in the COFLA research project and is publicly available as a OSX binary implementation and as a Python module. If you need assistance with transcribing your files, COFLA members are glad to help. Contact us on cofla at cofla-project dot com.

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