Syllabus (Semi-tentative)

Organization and Searching of Musical Information

Informatics I545

Music N564, N364


Instructor: Don Byrd, Visiting Associate Professor of Informatics & Adjunct Associate Professor of Music
Offices: Informatics 307; Music Library, Simon Center (ask for me at the Reference or Circulation Desk)
Phone: 856-0129
Office Hours: 2:30 - 3:30 Weds in the Music Library; other times by appointment

We meet Mon/Weds/Fri from 1:25 - 2:15 PM, in Simon Center M373. To get to M373, you must go into the Music Library; then go up two floors.

Course Overview and Goals

Music notation of any kind–for example, guitar tablature, Javanese gamelan notation, or conventional Western notation– represents information that's quite different from the sounds it allegedly corresponds to. One of the main goals of the course is to make clear the implications of that fact for almost any application of computers to musical information. (For MIDI fans, piano-roll notation, as seen especially in sequencer programs, is analogous to MIDI; both are somewhere between notation and audio, and we will discuss all three forms.) Other objectives include studying the representation of music and representations of music; learning what the state of the art is for music-seaching programs; and seeing how it's possible to explore musical issues (whether theoretical, musicological, music-psychological, or other) with software and databases that are available or becoming available now. We'll investigate research technologies like "query by humming" and the amazing new games for creating metadata, and look at tools that are in practical use now like music-recommender web sites and IU's own ground-breaking Variations2 system.

The Fundamental Theorem of Music Informatics (maybe)

Music is created by humans for other humans, and humans can bring a tremendous amount of contextual knowledge to bear on anything they do; in fact, they can't avoid it, and they're rarely conscious of it. But (as of early 2008) computers can never bring much contextual knowledge to bear, often none at all, and never without being specifically programmed to do so. Therefore doing almost anything with music by computers is very difficult; many problems are essentially intractable. For the forseeable future, the only way to make significant progress is by doing as well as possible with very little context, thereby sidestepping the intractable problems. -- Don Byrd, 7 Jan. 2008

Class Format and Requirements

This is a seminar, meaning students are expected to participate and even to lead as much as possible. There will be the customary lectures by the instructor, and some demos and hands-on experiments with systems using the computers in the classrom, but students will also be giving presentations and leading discussion in various ways. I expect a student presenting a paper or system to understand the content sufficiently to present the problem(s) addressed and explain the approach taken and experimental findings or other results to the class. [NEW] Mid-term presentations are optional; any student that gives one will be excused from one normal homework assignment.

[NEW] The class has a Google Group of its own, Music rep & IR discussion. Over the course of the semester, every student should post at least five comments of 250 to 500 words each, responding to assigned reading or other homework or to something current in one of these blogs: by well-known researchers Paul LaMere of Sun and Elias Pampalk of I won't grade these comments, I'll simply count them, though I may respond. How many you've done will affect the participation part of your grade.

There will be short assignments, including some that involve writing simple programs or modifying more complex ones, and a large final project. For the final project, I expect each student to either implement and extend the findings of a pre-existing paper, project, program, or website, or to do an independent music-informatics project on a relevant topic. I'll provide a list with a wide variety of possible topics, or you can propose your own. You can do your projects alone or in teams of any size, but I'll expect larger teams to pick correspondingly ambitious projects.

In order to keep in touch with reality, we will listen to and look at real music as much as possible, and in as wide a variety of styles and genres as possible, but emphasizing types of music students are interested in.

I'll take into account what students are interested in as much as possible in choosing material to focus on.



There is no textbook as such. Music informatics is too new and too fast-moving for anything suitable to exist. Many readings will available on the Web; others will be on reserve in the Music Library, or I'll hand copies out. They will be selected mostly from recent literature -- not all of it academic -- such as Computer Music Journal, the Journal of New Music Research, and Electronic Musician, as well as proceedings of conferences like the International Conference on Music Information Retrieval, International Computer Music Conference, Computer Music Modeling and Retrieval, and the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, and books like Pohlmann's Principles of Digital Audio.


[NEW] Computer-music pioneer Andy Moorer once said he could not imagine doing computer music without graphics. I agree; being able to see what you're doing with music, even if it's in audio form, makes a tremendous difference. Besides tools for programming in R, we'll be using programs for visualizing and editing music in different forms, most likely including Audacity and Sonic Visualizer (for audio), MidiSwing or Digital Performer (for MIDI and audio events), and NightingaleSearch (for music notation).


Course Outline

The following outline of major topics and materials to study (readings, systems, etc.) is approximate and subject to change. However, I don't expect it to change much, except for adding study materials.

I. Introduction

Week 1-2. Course Logistics, Introduction, and Motivation

   Organizing and Searching Musical Information: A Whirlwind Tour

   Elements of Programming in R

II. Organization of Musical Information

Week 3-6. Representations of Music and Audio; Doing something useful in R

   MIDI, Synthesizers, and Sequencers

   Audio; Acoustics and Psychoacoustics; Formats; Lossless and Lossy Compression

Week 7-8. Music Notation; Encodings of Music Notation; XML

   Music Collections: Available or Not, Free or At Cost

   Software for Handling and Converting Encodings/Representations; AMR and OMR

III. Finding Musical Information

Week 9. Metadata, Content, and "Collaboration"

   A Music Similarity Scale

   Browsing, Searching, and Filtering; Human Computation & Metadata Games

   Mid-term Presentations

- - - - - - - - - Spring Break - - - - - - - - -

Week 10. Browsing vs. Searching/Filtering; Searching from Shazam to OMRAS

   Music-IR Evaluation: Precision, Recall, & Relevance Judgments

IV. Musical Similarity and Finding Music by Content

Week 11.

   Searching Polyphonic Audio: "fuzziness" via Harmonic Distributions or Chroma?

   Searching Symbolic Music: Humdrum, Themefinder, NightingaleSearch

   IR vs. Digital Libraries

   Music-IR Evaluation: the Cranfield model; TREC and MIREX

V. Finding Music via Metadata

Weeks 12 & 13. The Full Range of Music-IR Tasks: General and Music-specific Metadata; Bibliographic Searching, Filtering, etc.

Week 14-15. Final Presentations; Review of the course


Books on Reserve (in the Music Library)


Course Requirements and Grading



If you have a documented disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course, please make arrangements to meet with me soon.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please see me during office hours, make an appointment, write me a note (anonymously if you like), or send me email.

University policies on academic dishonesty will be followed. Cite your sources. Students found to be engaging in plagiarism, cheating, or other types of dishonesty will receive an F for the course. For further information, see the IU Code of Student Ethics at .

Work turned in late will be graded lower; if it happens repeatedly, it will not be accepted without prior arrangement for compelling reasons.

Last updated: 6 Feb. 2008
Comments: donbyrd(at)
Copyright 2006-08, Donald Byrd