Information Sources for Music Informatics Courses

Donald Byrd, Indiana University, Jan. 2007


I intend the following list of information sources particularly as a basis for research for projects for my courses, but it should be useful for other purposes as well. Depending on what you're studying, several types of information sources are likely to be useful: technical literature and web sites, software, and music collections. Or you may just need general technical background.

Music Informatics Literature and Web Sites

For music-IR and related topics, my own music-IR bibliography is fairly up-to-date, but it's strongly focused on my own interests. While there's a more complete and less biased music-IR "research bibliography" at, as of this writing, it's years out-of-date, and I see no signs it's going to be updated any time soon. Also, I'm suspicious of whether its search feature works properly, so be careful. ISMIR is the "International Conference on Music Information Retrieval". A complete list of all ISMIR papers is available at; it's exceptionally useful because it includes links to complete copies of most of the papers.

Don't neglect the reserve lists for the individual courses.

The most relevant journals are probably Computer Music Journal, Journal of New Music Research, the non-academic Electronic Musician, and perhaps Music Perception, Computers and the Humanities, and the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The most relevant conference proceedings are likely the International Conference on Music Information Retrieval, International Computer Music Conference, Computer Music Modeling and Retrieval, and perhaps the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, IJCAI Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Music, and the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries.

Finally, my home page has a number of links that should be useful; see especially the "Professional Links" at the bottom left.

Software and Systems

Paul Lamere's excellent The Tools We Use says "Since October 2004, I have been surveying the MIR community as to what tools MIR researchers were using. I have compiled this list based upon the inputs of MIR researchers from around the world."

Music Collections in Encoded Form

The MIREX web site hosts a number of very useful test collections, but it may not be easy to find them! My own list of Candidate Music IR Test Collections should be useful, though it's somewhat out-of-date, and maintaining it is low priority since the advent of MIREX. Finally, there's a small collection of MIDI files plus very simple text versions of the notes in them at Chris Raphael's I546 web page; however, I don't know how long he plans to leave them there, so check with him before depending on them.

Technical Background

For background information on music information technology, including computer technology in general, I recommend the following books. Except for the one that's on the Web and the "Sachertorte" book, all are available in the Music Library, and most are on the reserve shelves now for a course of mine or someone else.

  • Brinkman's PASCAL Programming for Music Research
  • Moore's Elements of Computer Music
  • Pierce's The Science of Musical Sound
  • Pohlmann's Principles of Digital Audio
  • Roads et al's The Computer Music Tutorial
  • Shore's The Sachertorte Algorithm and Other Antidotes to Computer Anxiety
  • Smith's Mathematics of the Discrete Fourier Transform (available at )
  • Williams and Webster's Experiencing music technology: software, data, and hardware

  • But which one is good for what? My music-IR bibliography lists all of them, and has brief comments on nearly all of them that should help you decide. Of course, books aren't the only source of background information. Many of the Wikipedia articles on all of these topics are quite good, though some are not: be careful. Here's more specific advice.

    "Computer Music." To a considerable extent, Moore and Roads cover the same "computer music" (meaning mostly music composition and sound synthesis; considerably less music analysis, IR, etc.) territory. Roads' massive volume is somewhat more up-to-date, and it's much more detailed. But for background information, Moore's conciseness may be an advantage. In addition, he includes appendices that cover the very basics, albeit aimed decidedly at a technically minded audience: for example, his appendix on mathematics has only 10 pages to cover what could easily be an entire book -- perhaps a book like Smith's, which also covers the basics and, from what I've read in it (admittedly not much yet) is exceptionally clearly written.

    Mathematics and Statistics. The Everything for Finite Mathematics & Applied Calculus website has loads of useful tools. (Also, I recently ran across an interesting- and readable-looking new book, Bruce Frey's Statistics Hacks (O'Reilly); if anyone has looked at it much, please let me know what you think of it.)

    Computers and Computer Programming. Shore's Sachertorte book looks like an excellent and very readable introduction to the concepts behind computers and computer programs; it's a good 20 years old, but the basic ideas and problems haven't changed. Brinkman's book is less helpful for beginning R programmers than it might be because the PASCAL language looks quite different from R, but the two actually have a lot in common; the biggest difference is probably that PASCAL has no built-in capability for doing things with arrays or vectors in a single statement. Besides, a great deal of the book is on principles of processing music by computer that apply equally well to any programming language.

    For the R language in particular, there's a lot of documentation on the Comprehensive R Archive Network website; to get to it, use the links near the bottom of the column at the left, under "Documentation". I particularly recommend "An Introduction to R", a well-organized guide available in both HTML and PDF form from the "Manuals" page.

    Music and Music Theory. IU's own Cook Music Library web site has extensive links to useful information about music, including the definitive New Grove Online and other online reference works. Electronic Musician has a regular feature, "Square One", addressed to musicians with no technical background, that covers a different topic each month in a couple of pages; the ones I've read through have been well-written and accurate.

    For music theory, there's a first-rate website, Ricci Adams' It uses Macromedia Flash to offer lessons, trainers and utilities in music theory. The lessons -- while very well-done -- are quite basic, but some of the trainers and utilities might be useful to almost anyone. (Thanks to Zhuofeng Li for finding this.) Also, my music-IR bibliography lists several books on basic music theory, including textbooks and a "complete idiot's guide". And the Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary is worth considering as a source of theory information in a very general sense; see especially its appendices.

    Last updated: 18 Jan. 2007
    Comments to: donbyrd(at)
    Copyright 2006, Donald Byrd