[Smt-talk] Wikipedia's Music Theory Problem (Or Music Theory's Wikipedia Problem)

Devin Chaloux devin.chaloux at gmail.com
Mon Dec 3 13:37:16 PST 2012

Dear list,

As the former coordinator of the WikiProject Music Theory (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Music_theory), I must
espouse the real issue about Wikipedia and its music theory problem (or
potentially vice versa).

Wikipedia *can* be a reliable source for those fields who take the time to
carefully edit the articles with the care and thought of writing a truly
academic article. Nevertheless, music theory as a discipline lacks the
manpower to truly and effectively raise the level of Wikipedia articles. I
will expand on the reasons why we have failed in this regard with the hopes
of maybe inspiring a revival of interest in this resource that all of our
undergraduate students are more than familiar with by the time they enter
the university.

1) First and foremost, those qualified to best represent articles related
to music theory topics were (mostly) absent from the beginning of the
process. I blame this solely on the size of our discipline (pretty small
for academics) compared to the number of musicians (amateur and
professional). As a result, many articles have been created or
substantially edited by some users who are not as qualified. Thus, there
are many moments of factual errors, questionable prose, and misguided
emphasis (some which Dimitar has found in our cadence article).

2) Those who create/substantially edit these articles have immense pride in
doing so (despite errors or not). The problem with music theory is that a
vast majority of the articles authored were done so by a very small, very
elite group on Wikipedia. Whereas some disciplines have several
administrators as experts, music theory has none. As a result, a somewhat
rogue Wikipedia administrator has "adopted" the field as his own. Despite
the deploration of many of us associated with Wikiproject Music Theory,
this administrator has made unilateral decisions which ultimately worsen
the quality of these pages. I have sought action against this
administrator, but I am finding the bureaucracy of dealing with such an
issue to be a little too cumbersome.

3) As a result of the first two points, Wikipedia music theory articles
have turned into a soapbox for some. I believe it was two summers ago when
we rehashed Wikipedia's article on Prolongation. Rather than collaborating
on the various viewpoints that *could be had* on the subject, many "edit
wars" trying to "right the wrong" have occurred in the past. Thus, many who
I believe were well-intentioned editors have decided to stop editing the
articles as many of their contributions have been scrubbed in the aftermath
of these edit wars.

4) Music theory unfortunately also has different types of schooling based
on geographic location. The recent flurry of SMT-talk posts in the last
year demonstrate this point well. As a result, it is almost impossible to
come up with an agreeable compromise between these different schools of
thought. Wikipedia articles cannot reflect only one "school" of thought. As
a result, music articles have a broader issue of needing to accommodate
both American and European terminology. A now-defunct project, Wikiproject
Music Terminology, sought to standardize the terminology in music articles
(very relevant to music theory). Alas, it had too few supporters and too
little sway on a very large chunk of Wikipedia.

5) Furthermore, SMT cannot endorse Wikiproject Music Theory (or vice
versa). As a result, those with doctoral degrees (or really any  music
theory/musicology degree) who prefer to protect their anonymity may get
overwritten by an amateur with a cursory knowledge of music theory. There
is a serious backlash against "academic" writing in the majority of the
Wikipedia music theory pages for some unknown reason. Too many articles
rely on questionable sources due to academic rigor or age.

This is just a summary (a bit long, I apologize) of some of the largest
issues that music theory faces with Wikipedia or vice versa. Without a
concerted effort from those of us with advanced knowledge in the field, the
level of the majority of articles will be misguided, overtly polemic, or
simply wrong.

With that said, I want to applaud those of us who have at least attempted
to correct these issues. There are a few articles that are excellent, in my
opinion. While not perfect, they represent what we should strive for. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_%28music%29 for an example).

I think we as a field are responsible for the content of these pages and it
is our duty to correct those errors. With that said, it is important that
differences must be respected. While we may debate on whether prolongation
exists or not, that's an issue for conference papers, publications, and
SMT-talk--not Wikipedia. And until we as a field recognize that, there is
little we can do to solve our Wikipedia problem.

Devin Chaloux*
Indiana University
Ph.D. in Music Theory (enrolled)
University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
M.M. in Music Theory '12
University of Connecticut
B.M. in Music Theory '10
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