Problems of Music Information Retrieval in the Real World

Donald Byrd and Tim Crawford



Although a substantial number of research projects have addressed music information retrieval over the past three decades, the field is still very immature. Few of these projects involve complex (polyphonic) music; methods for evaluation are at a very primitive stage of development; none of the projects tackles the problem of realistically large-scale databases. Many problems to be faced are due to the nature of music itself. Among these are issues in human perception and cognition of music, especially as they concern the recognizability of a musical phrase.

This paper considers some of the most fundamental problems in music information retrieval, challenging the common assumption that searching on pitch (or pitch-contour) alone is likely to be satisfactory for all purposes. This assumption may indeed be true for most monophonic (single-voice) music, but it is certainly inadequate for polyphonic (multi-voice) music. Even in the monophonic case it can lead to misleading results. The fact, long recognized in projects involving monophonic music, that a recognizable passage is usually not identical with the search pattern means that approximate matching is almost always necessary, yet this too is severely complicated by the demands of polyphonic music.

Almost all text-IR methods rely on identifying approximate units of meaning, that is, words. A fundamental problem in music IR is that locating such units is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible.

Keywords: information retrieval, searching, music, audio, MIDI, notation.