[Smt-talk] Social media and music theory

kos at panix.com kos at panix.com
Mon Feb 20 10:36:34 PST 2012

Kris Shaffer <kshaffer at csuniv.edu> wrote:

> I threw together a really rough and quick sample of things that can be done 
> really easily with social media relating to music theory & analysis.  ...
> A lot of the stuff that goes though is garbage, but there are some really cool 
> things as well.

Well, it's a start.  As you say, a lot of the stuff is garbage, or what the 
masses call "music theory" but which people on this list would consider too 
irrelevant or too basic to spend much time with.

Although I'm a big advocate of more social media in musicology in general, I'm 
more skeptical about the inroads within music theory.

Some aspects of music theory don't lend themselves to a social context, while 
others do.  I could see a class assignment or collaborative effort to read an 
important theory text might be a worthwhile thing.  Presumably if it's public 
domain, the text could be loaded onto WordPress or Google Doc, and then the 
class or collaborators could comment (through annotation) on significant 
issues in the text.  (Those interested in Digital Humanities could run the 
text through procesing looking the occurence of particular words and ideas.)

Those who took up my entreaty to take a serious look at Wikipedia already know 
that the WikiProject Music Theory is gradually getting some momentum.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:MTH).  I think 
enhancing some of the articles on music theorists would be a great 
assignment/project for a "History of Music Theory" class.

But just as learning an instrument involves an individual spending many solitary 
hours with their instrument, so too a lot of music theory (and especially 
analysis) involves spending hours with music and working through it. Like 
playing an instrument, it's not merely knowledge but the building up of a skill 
of looking at and perceiving music.  Perhaps particular aspects could be done 
collaboratively, but I think that an individual's ability to discern, reflect, 
grow and develop their own skills in looking/analyzing music needs to be 
determined by their own experiences in working through music.

For better or worse, music of the field of music is very tied to the
paradigm of the individual mastering knowledge and then dispensing it.  It 
makes the intellectual study of music much more resistant to collaborative work 
(and social media) than many other disciplines.  I suspect the latest generation 
of college students (once they've been placed in jobs) will be the ones who 
might attempt to open up the discipline to a deeper engagement with social 

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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