[Smt-talk] Music theory on Wikipedia

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at princeton.edu
Fri Jul 15 06:36:35 PDT 2011

I agree that Wikipedia is really important, and that theorists should pay attention to it.  I've also done some work on the Wikipedia music pages.  

The one warning I would give is that contributing to Wikipedia is not simply a matter of the time you spend writing and editing.  You also have to convince the other Wikipedians that you're right.  Sometimes this can lead to really productive exchanges with other scholars; but sometimes it means convincing some high-school kid in Montana that you know what you're talking about.  This can be very, very frustrating.

I've found that Wikipedia's math and science articles are very high quality.  In large part this is because high-school kids don't feel that they have much to contribute about (say) connections on fiber bundles.  The problem is that everybody thinks that they know something about music, and this means that nonprofessionals will feel totally comfortable rewriting your carefully written prose.

So, by all means contribute, but be clear about what you're getting into ... in the world of Wikipedia, authority, experience, and knowledge aren't nearly as important as persistence.


PS. An amusing story: I was once teaching my freshmen about the oddities of "scientific pitch notation" (where B#3 is higher than Cb4).  One of my students came up to me and said, "you know, I didn't really believe you, but I looked it up on Wikipedia and you're right!"  I didn't have the heart to tell him that I'd written the Wikipedia article in question!

Dmitri Tymoczko
Associate Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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