Time–frequency analysis for music signals

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Time–frequency analysis for music signals is one of the applications of time–frequency analysis. Musical sound can be more complicated than human vocal sound, occupying a wider band of frequency. Music signals are time-varying signals; while the classic Fourier transform is not sufficient to analyze them, time–frequency analysis is an efficient tool for such use. Time–frequency analysis is extended from the classic Fourier approach. Short-time Fourier transform (STFT), Gabor transform (GT) and Wigner distribution function (WDF) are famous time–frequency methods, useful for analyzing music signals such as notes played on a piano, a flute or a guitar.

In signal processing, time–frequency analysis comprises those techniques that study a signal in both the time and frequency domains simultaneously, using various time–frequency representations. Rather than viewing a 1-dimensional signal and some transform, time–frequency analysis studies a two-dimensional signal – a function whose domain is the two-dimensional real plane, obtained from the signal via a time–frequency transform.

Short-time Fourier transform

The short-time Fourier transform (STFT), is a Fourier-related transform used to determine the sinusoidal frequency and phase content of local sections of a signal as it changes over time. In practice, the procedure for computing STFTs is to divide a longer time signal into shorter segments of equal length and then compute the Fourier transform separately on each shorter segment. This reveals the Fourier spectrum on each shorter segment. One then usually plots the changing spectra as a function of time.

Gabor transform

The Gabor transform, named after Dennis Gabor, is a special case of the short-time Fourier transform. It is used to determine the sinusoidal frequency and phase content of local sections of a signal as it changes over time. The function to be transformed is first multiplied by a Gaussian function, which can be regarded as a window function, and the resulting function is then transformed with a Fourier transform to derive the time-frequency analysis. The window function means that the signal near the time being analyzed will have higher weight. The Gabor transform of a signal x(t) is defined by this formula:


Knowledge about music signal

Music is a type of sound that has some stable frequencies in a time period. Music can be produced by several methods. For example, the sound of a piano is produced by striking strings, and the sound of a violin is produced by bowing. All musical sounds have their fundamental frequency and overtones. Fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency in harmonic series. In a periodic signal, the fundamental frequency is the inverse of the period length. Overtones are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency.

In music, a bow is a tensioned stick with hair affixed to it that is moved across some part of a musical instrument to cause vibration, which the instrument emits as sound. The vast majority of bows are used with string instruments, such as the violin, although some bows are used with musical saws and other bowed idiophones.

Fundamental frequency Lowest frequency of a periodic waveform, such as sound

The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental, is defined as the lowest frequency of a periodic waveform. In music, the fundamental is the musical pitch of a note that is perceived as the lowest partial present. In terms of a superposition of sinusoids, the fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency sinusoidal in the sum. In some contexts, the fundamental is usually abbreviated as f0, indicating the lowest frequency counting from zero. In other contexts, it is more common to abbreviate it as f1, the first harmonic.

Since the fundamental is the lowest frequency and is also perceived as the loudest, the ear identifies it as the specific pitch of the musical tone [harmonic spectrum]....The individual partials are not heard separately but are blended together by the ear into a single tone.

Table. 1 the fundamental frequency and overtone
f = 440 HzN = 1Fundamental frequency1st harmonic
f = 880 HzN = 21st overtone2nd harmonic
f = 1320 HzN = 32nd overtone3rd harmonic
f = 1760 HzN = 43rd overtone4th harmonic

In musical theory, pitch represents the perceived fundamental frequency of a sound. However the actual fundamental frequency may differ from the perceived fundamental frequency because of overtones.

Short-time Fourier transform

Fig.1 Waveform of the audio file "Chord.wav" Chord.jpg
Fig.1 Waveform of the audio file "Chord.wav"
Fig.2 Gabor transform of "Chord.wav" Garbor of Chord.png
Fig.2 Gabor transform of "Chord.wav"
Fig. 3 Spectrogram of "Chord.wav" Spectrogram of Chord.jpg
Fig. 3 Spectrogram of "Chord.wav"

Continuous STFT

Short-time Fourier transform is a basic type of time–frequency analysis. If there is a continuous signal x(t), we can compute the short-time Fourier transform by

where w(t) is a window function. When the w(t) is a rectangular function, the transform is called Rec-STFT. When the w(t) is a Gaussian function, the transform is called Gabor transform.

Window function

In signal processing and statistics, a window function is a mathematical function that is zero-valued outside of some chosen interval, normally symmetric around the middle of the interval, usually near a maximum in the middle, and usually tapering away from the middle. Mathematically, when another function or waveform/data-sequence is "multiplied" by a window function, the product is also zero-valued outside the interval: all that is left is the part where they overlap, the "view through the window". Equivalently, and in actual practice, the segment of data within the window is first isolated, and then only that data is multiplied by the window function values. Thus, tapering, not segmentation, is the main purpose of window functions.

Discrete STFT

However, normally the musical signal we have is not a continuous signal. It is sampled in a sampling frequency. Therefore, we can’t use the formula to compute the Rec-short-time Fourier transform. We change the original form to

Let , , and . There are some constraints of discrete short-time Fourier transform:

STFT example

Fig.1 shows the waveform of a piano music audio file with 44100 Hz sampling frequency. And Fig.2 shows the result of short-time Fourier transform (we use Gabor transform here) of the audio file. We can see from the time–frequency plot, from t = 0 to 0.5 second, there is a chord with three notes, and the chord changed at t = 0.5, and then changed again at t = 1. The fundamental frequency of each note in each chord is shown in the time–frequency plot.


Figure 3 shows the spectrogram of the audio file shown in Figure 1. Spectrogram is the square of STFT, time-varying spectral representation. The spectrogram of a signal s(t) can be estimated by computing the squared magnitude of the STFT of the signal s(t), as shown below:

Spectrogram Visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies of a signal as it varies with time

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Although the spectrogram is profoundly useful, it still has one drawback. It displays frequencies on a uniform scale. However, musical scales are based on a logarithmic scale for frequencies. Therefore, we should describe the frequency in logarithmic scale related to human hearing.

Wigner distribution function

The Wigner distribution function can also be used to analyze music signal. The advantage of Wigner distribution function is the high clarity. However, it needs high calculation and has cross-term problem, so it's more suitable to analyze signal without more than one frequency at the same time.

Wigner distribution function

The Wigner distribution function (WDF) is used in signal processing as a transform in time-frequency analysis.


The Wigner distribution function is:

where x(t) is the signal, and x*(t) is the conjugate of the signal.

See also


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