A competent interpretation of a musical composition presents several non-explicit departures from the written score. Timing variations are perhaps the most important ones: they are fundamental for expressive performance and a key ingredient for conferring a human-like quality to machine-based music renditions. However, the nature of such variations is still an open research question, with diverse theories that indicate a multi-dimensional phenomenon. In the present study, we consider event-shift timing variations and show that sequences of note onset deviations are robust and reliable predictors of the musical piece being played, irrespective of the performer. In fact, our results suggest that only a few consecutive onset deviations are already enough to identify a musical composition with statistically significant accuracy. We consider a mid-size collection of commercial recordings of classical guitar pieces and follow a quantitative approach based on the combination of standard statistical tools and machine learning techniques with the semi-automatic estimation of onset deviations. Besides the reported results, we believe that the considered materials and the methodology followed widen the testing ground for studying musical timing and could open new perspectives in related research fields.
J. Serrà, T. H. Özaslan, J. Ll. Arcos. Note onset deviations as musical piece signatures. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69268. Jul 2013.