Paolo Bravi

What you hear and what you get. Manual transcription and melodic analysis through ‘Praat’

In the field of ethnomusicology, musical transcription has been for a long time a central and problematic issue (see for example, among many others, Bartók, 1977 ed. it.; Carpitella, 1973; Stockmann, 1989; Macchiarella, 2000; Nettl, 2005; Baumann & Stock, 2005). Problems regarding scales, intervals, rhythms, timbric ‘anomalies’ etc. make the usual Western way of writing music not completely suitable, effective and affordable in the case of music based on different codes. For this reason, musical transcriptions on the score must sometimes be considered with suspicion and caution. The digital era offers analytical instruments which may serve to solve at least some of the problems related to the use of the score as a method for visualizing music melodies.
Furthermore, these instruments allow analyses which were virtually impossible for most ethnomusicologists until a few decades ago. ‘Praat’, a well-known software developed by Paul Boersma and David Weenink and designed for phonetic studies (Boersma & Weenink, 2014), may also be helpful in analyses concerning the singing voice. In particular, I will discuss and show in a practical way how melodic lines can be interpreted by a (human) transcriber and analysed through F0 profiles and how the two representations may interact and may be compared for further and more thorough analytic investigations. In conclusion, I will show that software analysis of sung lines allows not only a particular visual representation of the melodic line, but provides means to different analytical steps which may result in a more comprehensive view of the specific qualities of the singing voices.