Computational Musicology For Python Programmers


February 11th, 2019

47 mins 48 secs

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About this Episode


Music is a part of every culture around the world and throughout history. Musicology is the study of that music from a structural and sociological perspective. Traditionally this research has been done in a manual and painstaking manner, but the advent of the computer age has enabled an increase of many orders of magnitude in the scope and scale of analysis that we can perform. The music21 project is a Python library for computer aided musicology that is written and used by MIT professor Michael Scott Cuthbert. In this episode he explains how the project was started, how he is using it personally, professionally, and in his lectures, as well as how you can use it for your own exploration of musical analysis.


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  • Your host as usual is Tobias Macey and today I’m interviewing Michael Cuthbert about music21, a toolkit for computer aided musicology


  • Introductions
  • How did you get introduced to Python?
  • Can you start by explaining what computational musicology is?
  • What is music21 and what motivated you to create it?
    • What are some of the use cases that music21 supports, and what are some common requests that you purposefully don’t support?
  • How much knowledge of musical notation, structure, and theory is necessary to be able to work with music21?
  • Can you talk through a typical workflow for doing analysis of one or more pieces of existing music?
    • What are some of the common challenges that users encounter when working with it (either on the side of Python or musicology/musical theory)?
    • What about for doing exploration of new musical works?
  • As a professor at MIT, what are some of the ways that music21 has been incorporated into your classroom?
    • What have they enjoyed most about it?
  • How is music21 implemented, and how has its structure evolved since you first started it?
    • What have been the most challenging aspects of building and maintaining the music21 project and community?
  • What are some of the most interesting, unusual, or unexpected ways that you have seen music21 used?
    • What are some analyses that you have performed which yielded unexpected results?
  • What do you have planned for the future of music21?
  • Beyond computational analysis of musical theory, what are some of the other ways that you are using Python in your academic and professional pursuits?

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The intro and outro music is from Requiem for a Fish The Freak Fandango Orchestra / CC BY-SA