Agreement among human and annotated transcriptions of global songs
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Cross-cultural musical analysis requires standardized symbolic representation of sounds such as score notation. However, transcription into notation is usually conducted manually by ear, which is time-consuming and subjective. Our aim is to evaluate the reliability of existing methods for transcribing songs from diverse societies. We had 3 experts independently transcribe a sample of 32 excerpts of traditional monophonic songs from around the world (half a cappella, half with instrumental accompaniment). 16 songs also had pre-existing transcriptions created by 3 different experts. We compared these human transcriptions against one another and against 10 automatic music transcription algorithms. We found that human transcriptions can be sufficiently reliable (~90% agreement, κ ~.7), but current automated methods are not (<60% agreement, κ <.4). No automated method clearly outperformed others, in contrast to our predictions. These results suggest that improving automated methods for cross-cultural music transcription is critical for diversifying MIR.