Notes Notations and Annotations - The Potential of Human-Machine Collaboration through Global Notation

Andrew Killick


In ethnomusicology, the history of transcription has been mainly polarised between human transcription into staff notation and automatic transcription into some form of graphic representation, most often a pitch-time graph. Automatic transcription into staff notation has not been widely adopted by ethnomusicologists, not only because it is not yet considered accurate enough, but also because ethnomusicologists regard a transcription as an interpretation in itself, and wish to retain full control of its content and appearance, while valuing the process of transcribing as a means of discovering things about the music.

Yet there have always been critiques of staff notation, with its requirement to break sound down into “notes”, when used as a descriptive notation and across cultural boundaries. Thus, Bruno Nettl wrote that “In [certain] kinds of music, perhaps singing most of all, notes are useful prescriptive devices, but they are not particularly descriptive. Lines may be preferable, providing opportunities to show glides and other ornaments.” But line-based transcription has been largely left to machines and computer programs, which are assumed to be better than the human ear at producing detailed pitch-time graphs.

Since 2016 I have been developing a form of notation called “global notation” that aims to support analysis of any kind of music by allowing the user to specify any information about sound while omitting any unwanted information, to use both note-based and line-based approaches, and to combine human with automatic input in various ways. In this presentation I illustrate some problems and solutions in the transcription of vocal music into global notation using computer-generated notation with manual annotation, emphasising that transcription should still be an aid to perceptive listening rather than a substitute for it, and that the way forward for global notation lies in the technological facilitation of manual as well as automatic input.


Andrew Killick is a Reader in Ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield. His main research areas have been traditional music of Korea and transcription and analysis of world musics. He maintains the website and is the author of “Global Notation as a Tool for Cross-Cultural and Comparative Music Analysis”, published in the journal Analytical Approaches to World Music (8.2) with responses from eight distinguished scholars. He is co-chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for the next international conference on Analytical Approaches to World Musics, to be held in Sheffield in June 2022.

GlobalNotation-SingingVoice-2109.pptx 9.04 MB, downloaded 32 times Polina Proutskova, 2021-09-30 12:11 AM