[Smt-talk] Music theory on Wikipedia

Soderberg, Stephen ssod at loc.gov
Thu Jul 14 12:00:54 PDT 2011

This is about pros & cons.

In general I support Bob's points and I agree that, love it or hate it, Wikipedia is going to continue to be around in one form or another from now on.  I was interested to know how other disciplines rate it and (after a bit of Googling (heh)) found this:


which, of course, doesn't necessarily represent a recent consensus within the science community, but still it was an interesting test.

But back to music.  Yes, I use it also, mostly for quick bios and kickstarts for bibliographies -- with extreme caution, a lot of caveats, and occasional minor threats to my sanity (see below).  (Will there now be a rush to join me at the front of the room to take the pledge: "Hi.  My name is [state your name] and I'm a Wikipedia user." OK, maybe not.)

The choices for the teacher would seem to be (a) ignore it, (b) forbid your students to use it, or (c) teach them when and how to best use it.  (a) is impossible, and good luck with (b).  Before you can do (c) you have to use it yourself and take some responsibility by correcting it yourself when you see misleading or incomplete information or outright errors.  This can involve getting in some fights (click on a "view history" to experience some of this without getting involved yourself).  So admittedly, I have avoided going there -- but maybe it's time to start.

Still, one recent theory example that makes me inclined to stay away ...

A few weeks ago I somehow got it into my head to see if Wikipedia had anything at all on "dual inversions."  Just curious.  And it did not, which is no real problem -- this is no earth-shattering omission.  Since it's in the literature, I could legitimately have started an article, but I do have other projects & I'm lazy.  But while there, I wondered what there was on "z-related sets" -- well, there wasn't a separate article but it took me to the article entitled "interval vector."  Here things got interesting, because if I DID choose to initiate an article on dual inversion, I would have to relate it to the already established article on interval vectors.  Now, there is nothing exactly "wrong" in that article, but the terminology and viewpoint is skewed in ways that give me a problem that goes beyond my own merely personal terminology preferences.  For one thing, "interval vector" is linked right away in the first paragraph to Schuijer's more recent term "Absolute Pitch Interval Class Vector" (APIC vector), and the entire article seems to have been written from the viewpoint of Schuijer's book.  Now there is nothing "wrong" with this, except it now captures the term "interval vector" as something pitch-specific, thereby making its usage in analyzing rhythmic structures more than confusing to both students and teachers as well as the general interest public -- and it also makes it nearly impossible for me to generalize even further in ways that I think would make an interesting, provocative, accurate article on dual inversions.  The whole topic of homotopy is much larger and important than a musical classification of pc sets in 12tet or microtonal applications.  But that's another day.

Steve Soderberg
Music Division
Library of Congress  
-----Original Message-----
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of kos at panix.com
Sent: Thursday, July 14, 2011 11:56 AM
To: smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Music theory on Wikipedia

Those of you who read my posts on AMS-L (the email discussion list of the American Musicological Society) might recall that I and a few others are enthusiastic about harnessing the power of Wikipedia for our disciplines.

As a librarian, I tend not to think of Wikipedia as a resource except for hard-to-find people or topics which are not covered in standard reference sources.  (Confession:  I do contribute articles on topics which I don't find sufficiently covered elsewhere.)

But I am in the minority.  As recent discussions at the American Library Association have revealed, after Google, Wikipedia is one of the 5 most used resources on the web throughout the world.

Some of us may find it difficult to understand that people born into a world where the Internet is a given will not think of consulting Grove/Oxford, MGG or other reference works first, second, or third.  They will first go to Google and Wikipedia.  Many people know that good Wikipedia articles supply a good list of sources -- and it is these notes & bibliographies that launch people on their research - not the bibliographies in Grove/Oxford.

Where does that leave us, the music theory community?  We can either choose to ignore it - which I tend to feel will increasingly marginalize us.  Or we can choose to engage it, which I feel can benefit those involved in music theory in numerous ways.

Someone had started a "WikiProject Music theory" basing the project template on other such projects:


(See also the discussion page)

When it was found that the founder was plagierizing articles, he was banned.  So despite stil having a few members, the project is dormant, waiting for energetic individuals to climb aboard and create/improve articles on music theory.

It seems to me to be a great opportunity for subscribers of SMT-TALK to contribute content to Wikipedia.  In so doing, music theory has an opportunity to raise its standing among humanities.

Bob Kosovsky, Ph.D. -- Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
blog:  http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/44   Twitter: @kos2
   Listowner: OPERA-L ; SMT-TALK ; SMT-ANNOUNCE ; SoundForge-users
--- My opinions do not necessarily represent those of my institutions ---

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