A Case-Based Reasoning system
for generating expressive performances

Josep Lluís Arcos

We have developed Saxex, a case-based reasoning system for generating expressive performances of melodies based on examples of human performances. Case-based Reasoning (CBR) is a recent approach to problem solving and learning where new problems are solved using similar previously solved problems. The two basic mechanisms used by CBR are (i) the retrieval of solved problems (also called precedents or cases) using some similarity criteria and (ii) the adaptation of the solutions applied in the precedents to the new problem. Case-based reasoning techniques are appropriate on problems where many examples of solved problems can be obtained---like in our case where multiple examples can be easily obtained from recordings of human performances.

Sound analysis and synthesis techniques based on spectrum models like SMS (Spectral Modeling Synthesis) are useful for the extraction of high level parameters from real sounds, their transformation and the synthesis of a modified version of the original. Saxex uses SMS in order to extract basic information related to several expressiveness parameters such as dynamics, rubato, vibrato, and articulation. The SMS synthesis procedure allows Saxex the generation of new expressive interpretations (new sound files).

Saxex incorporates background musical knowledge based on Narmour's implication/realization model and Lerdahl and Jackendoff's generative theory of tonal music (GTTM). These theories of musical perception and musical understanding are the basis of the computational model of musical knowledge of the system.

Saxex is implemented in Noos, a reflective object-centered representation language designed to support knowledge modeling of problem solving and learning.

We have started to study the issue of musical expression in the context of tenor saxophone interpretations. We have done several recordings of a tenor sax performer playing several Jazz standard ballads with different degrees of expressiveness, including an (almost) inexpressive interpretation of each piece. These recordings are analyzed using the SMS spectral modeling techniques in order to extract basic information related to the expressive parameters. The set of extracted parameters together with the scores of the pieces constitute the set of cases of the case-based system. From this set of cases and using similarity criteria based on the background musical knowledge, the system infers a set of possible expressive transformations for a given piece. Finally, using the SMS synthesis procedure and the set of inferred transformations, Saxex generates new expressive interpretations of the same jazz ballads as well as of other similar melodies.

The block diagram of the Saxex components is the following:


The Case-based Reasoner

The problem solving method developed follows the subtask decomposition of CBR methods: retrieve, adapt, and incorporate (see figure below).

cbr decomposition

One small Example

Autumn Leaves

Inexpressive Phrase
Saxex Expressive Phrase

Previous work on the analysis and synthesis of musical expression has addressed the study of parameters such as rhythm and vibrato, however, to the best of our knowledge, the only previous work addressing the issue of learning to generate expressive performances based on examples is that of Widmer, who uses explanation-based techniques to learn rules for dynamics and rubato in the context of a MIDI electronic piano. In our approach we deal with additional expressive parameters in the context of a expressively richer instrument. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to deal with this problem using case-based techniques. The results obtained are comparable to a human performance specially for dynamics, rubato and vibrato, however the articulation needs further work.

A complete example

All of Me

Inexpressive Phrase
Saxex Expressive Phrases


music projects
© Josep Lluís Arcos
28 Jan 1997