XArt Online Journal

Exploding Art Music Productions

2.1: The Internet and Music Research in Education

As music educators strive for a relevant focus, they pursue music making activities in all their forms. Research and reflection upon our musical activities is a vital part of a complete music education. This article explores the way the internet revitalises music research in a making climate.

Current music education talk is of musical praxis, of experience, of expression, of aesthetic awareness, and more. While the 1970s focused on experiencing music, the 1980s on balancing composing, performing and listening, and the 1990s on media integration, reflection and competence, research endures in the guise of history, musicology, assignments, projects, and as contextual studies. If there was any cringe in admitting the quantity of musicology research in our school music programs its time to come out of the closet (so to speak), the internet is here to legitimise it into the next century.

The Place of Research in the Music Curriculum

The image of research involving long hours pouring over dusty old books in order to find some irrelevant fact, is now replaced by a vision of searching online databases full of colourful graphics, sound bites and video segments. In fact, surfing the internet is closer to watching TV with a remote control in hand than anything else. Research using the internet can also include investigation through email dialogue, involve the game-like intrigue of seeking out a vital source and fact, and it can bring together a student's intellect, performance skills, sense of narrative and structure, and their visualisation abilities, in the creation of a multimedia assignment.

Having argued for research to be proudly added to composing, listening, and performance as a cornerstone of music education, this article will now explore the opportunities and pitfalls of music research on the internet, provide a path through some technological and methodological forests, dare to consider censorship and copyright, and encourage student creation of multimedia documents as research reports.

Opportunities of the Internet

Apart from a sexy image, is there any substance to the internet as a research tool? While the debate is inconclusive, it is clear that the quantity of content on the internet is increasing rapidly. But then so are the number of cable TV channels! It is clear that the opportunities of the internet need to be more than quick (or not-so-quick) access to what is already in books.

The number of on-line databases with music information are certainly increasing. While Groves is yet to move online, and Encyclopaedia Britannica [1] requires a subscription, there are nevertheless plenty of reputable online music sources. These include educational institutions providing materials for their own students, companies providing information of their wares, various professional and amateur associations, and enthusiastic users.

Convergence of Media

As more and more of the worlds information is digitised, including scores, performances, and writings, the access to this will increasingly be via digital conduits, via the internet. This convergence of media brought to popular attention in the late 1960Õs by Marshal McLuhan in his book "Understanding media" [2] , is a powerful trend. A significant aspect of online databases is that they can be multimedia documents. They can include sound and moving vision as well as text and graphics. This richness of data should not be underestimated for music research. There is much to be gained from accessing a video on Chinese flute playing compared to reading a book about it.

Forms - Online Data Collection

Research is not only about reading the conclusions of others, its also about gathering data and generating ones own conclusions. Fortunately the internet is not a one-way highway. An increasing number of researchers are using the internet to gather field data using email communications and web page forms. Forms are widely employed in internet commerce to allow users to order products or to provide feedback to a company, but they can successfully be use for research. One example is a generative music project at QUT [3], where a student has designed an automated music program and put it on the web. Visitors to the site, announced through online discussion groups, listen to the music program and provide comments via a form which is e-mailed back to the researcher. Thus a world-wide response is possible.

Cooperative Projects

The dialoguing possibilities of the internet have given rise to other modes of musical research. Net Gig[4] and other sites like it, allow students to exchange compositional ideas by swapping MIDI files. Similarly, for music research cooperative projects can be conducted between many sites through exchange of research documents in progress. This can be a linear process where drafts of one document are moved back and forth, or a distributed process where different students works on different aspects of the project and contribute to to final report. Cooperative projects also require students to verbalise their ideas in email communications, this provides a need to musical terminology to be developed and can enhance student's understanding. In addition the use of keyword searches enables subtle changes in vocabulary to make significant differences in search effectiveness. Internet music research requires students to focus the research and sift through irrelevancies to find what they needed to know.


One final opportunity the internet provides for the student music researcher, is a new level of access to information. The information on the internet is available relatively free of geographical location, and the volume significantly overwhelms that of any single educational institution's own resource centre. There is still considerable inequity on financial grounds however, but schools can make some inroads into this by providing internet access in libraries and classrooms. Several state governments in Australia have plans, at various stages, to link all state schools to the internet. The new level of access also relates to motivation inherent in the media. Research might just become fun, while be somewhat TV like, and somewhat game-like, the act of music research work using the internet may be less like ....work.

Internet Surfing Tips

As with most technologies, the internet's strength is its major flaw: too much information. Sifting through the vast array of classifieds for second hand Bach (the brand) trumpets in search of some facts about J.S. BachÕs writing for trumpet, can be frustrating. Secondly, as many schools choose inexpensive internet services, the world wide web has quickly become known as the world wide wait, because of significant delays in waiting for requested information to be sent.

Discerning 'Good' Information

While there might be an enormous volume and range of information available via the internet, there is also a wide range of quality. With more traditional forms of publication, such as books, CD's, and Videos, there is a financial filter which means that publishers provide some level of quality control. Publishing a web page on the internet is very inexpensive by comparison, and so it is important to know that the information about for example, the musical attributes of Silverchair's music, is from a 10 year old fan of the band or from a contemporary music lecturer at a university.

As with book publication, the internet publisher can be used as some measure of quality control, in relation to the accuracy of information. For example, the Smithsonian Institute's history information should be trustworthy, and the Stanford University tutorials on sound synthesis similarly.

Where the authorship or publication details are not known, methods of quality control can include triangulation of sources, checks against ones own empirical evidence, or the seeking of negative cases, or conflicting information. To avoid over-reliance on internet sources use it to quickly assess the range of issues surrounding a topic, and then detailed information gathering on the identified issues can be undertaken with more traditional (or trustworthy and available) sources.

Another educational issue relating to information quality is the detail of the information. A lack of control over the sophistication and language level of internet sources can be problematic for music research activities in schools. One solution to this can be the accumulation of a library of 'suitable' links. As part of each research project have students and staff add to a page of useful sites which can be revisited for subsequent projects.


Censorship issues always surround new media such as the internet. One of the duties of care of educators is to ensure that information is appropriate. While, supervision of internet sessions and direction to identify 'suitable' links will generally be helpful, complete protection will always be impossible (as with all activities).

Reasonable steps to protect students beyond teacher supervision involve a combination of regulation and restriction. In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) [6] is responsible for content regulation of mass media, including TV, computer games, and the internet. The federal government has a set of 'principles' for national online regulation. These principles are based on the preface that online documents should have a similar regulatory framework as those off-line. These include possible rating schemes, as for films, and monitoring and enforcing of the distribution of illegal and offensive material. Some internet service providers (ISP) go further in providing customers with the option to establish lists of 'undesirable' sites which cannot then be accessed. Such lists are, of course, always out of date, but provide some sense of security to stake holders.

One method of regulation being considered is 'content rating' which would inform users or service providers of the content via labelling. This leaves the decision about access to material of a specified rating to the user (or guardian). An extension to this is that sites would have ratings embedded in them and browsers would be set to only download sites with appropriate rating labels. One of the leading systems being considered in this area is the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) [7] rating system.

Students need to learn to manage the internet as much as be protected against possible harmful effects. A combination of reasonable protective measures along with teacher/parent and student self-regulation should enable internet research to be a positive learning experience and no more harmful than other media.


The technologies which create the ease of access to materials over the internet for music research, enable a corresponding ease of copying. The digital copies are, moreover, identical to the originals. Such ease of access and copying means that some increased awareness of copyright responsibilities may be required to avoid illegal (if well meaning) activity. The digitisation of all media means that picture, text, sound or movie data on the internet is treated equally in relation to copyright.

Copyright relates to the making of copies, so it is worth considering what constitutes a copy. Viewing an internet site on a computer involves making a copy of the data in the memory of your computer (RAM). Australian law does not consider the holding of data in RAM as a 'copy' which might breach copyright. However, if you save the information onto disk, print it out, or record it onto another medium, then that is a copy.

The current laws are always changing and some institutions, such as schools in Australia, have blanket licence agreements which result is special circumstances for those involved. So, if unsure, check with relevant copyright experts about your particular case. I will outline my understanding of the current situation.

If there are no restrictions to accessing the information over the internet then there is assumed to be an implicit agreement for use of that information. In these cases it is reasonable to assume that the information can be printed or freely used. If there are any notices restricting use or claiming copyright, then normal off-line copyright provisions apply. E-mail documents and information posted from internet forms, either personally or to a discussion list, are not copyright free; the copyright remains with the author. So when using or quoting from email the permission of the author is required. Such permission for research activities may be granted as a blanket agreement by the participants at the outset of the project.


There are two sides to examining the referencing of electronic documents. Firstly, the citation of electronic documents in a research report. The practice for citation of electronic documents is quite similar to non-electronic documents. Remember that a citation is there to acknowledge the source of information and ideas, and to enable a reader to check the sources if they wish. Therefore, the citation should include the author and document details, date and place (electronic) of availability. If no date of publication is available, which is quite common, then the date of access can be acknowledged.

The APA's publication manual [8] provides the following format for referencing on-line sources:

Secondly, the ways of referencing within a research report which is itself an electronic document can vary. One option is to follow standard printed document processes. A slight variation on this is to make each reference in the text, for example (Jones, 1987), or [12], a hypertext link to the full citation at the end of the report. This process can be further extended by having the full citation itself hyperlinked to the original source document, assuming it was an online document. The use of footnotes, as opposed to end notes, is rarely used as the visible 'page' length of an electronic document is not necessarily known in advance.

Sound on the Internet

When dealing with music research, one of the exciting features of the internet is its ability to contain sound recordings or videos of performances. The use of sound and video on the internet is not standardised to the same extent as text, there are a number of issues relating to quality and assessability which need to be considered. In this section I will refer to sound, but all comments apply equally to video.

Sound over the internet can come in a variety of formats. The various formats can be grouped into two categories, those which are RAM-based and require downloading to the users machine before playback, and those which are disk-based and download to the users machine in chunks, a process known as 'streaming'. RAM-based formats have traditionally been the most common, these include sounds in the .au, AIFF, WAV, and MIDI formats. This method of downloading to RAM is used by text and graphics on the internet and so is a logical extension of them. When sounds are downloaded they can then be played by an appropriate 'player'. Most internet browsers provide built-in players for all the formats mentioned above. Because these sounds are loaded completely into RAM they can also be easily saved for later use. The major restrictions for RAM-based sounds are that they must completely load before playing, often causing considerable delay, and secondly, to keep this delay short and to fit into available RAM sound files need be small in size. The size restriction results in them being short in length and/or poor in quality.

An exception to these quality problems in RAM-based audio, are MIDI files. Because MIDI files contain gestural information rather than sound information, they can be quite small. MIDI files replay on the sound hardware of the user's machine, so the audio quality of them varies accordingly. MIDI file players are standard on major internet browsers and their use is increasingly widespread. Combinations of MIDI and audio data formats, such as Beatnik [9], are emerging as ways to overcome the limitations inherent in audio-only or MIDI-only formats. An example of effective use of such a format would be the transfer of a musical backing via MIDI with accompanying vocal track as an audio signal.

Audio streaming allows sounds of any length and of reasonable quality to be heard over the internet. Presently, sound in such formats require extensions to standard browsers, called plugins, to play back. These plugins are usually free but do need to be installed. The most common streaming formats are Real Audio [10] and Shockwave [11]. For music research, streamed audio allows access to substantial musical examples. It does not allow the saving of these files for latter reference however. Data streaming is clearly a major development for internet use, and the 'pushing' of data as internet radio, telephony, and TV is a major growth area for the internet. The convergence of these services over the internet is an inevitable future development.

The internet is an entertainment medium as well as informational one. As a result, trends in audio for cinema and computer games are finding their way onto the internet. In particular, surround sound reproduction is beginning to be prominent. For a system to utilise surround sound a decoding amplifier, as required for surround videos or TV, is required, but also may be built into the computer's audio hardware. The music researcher may see little immediate benefit in this development, but in areas of critical performance recreation a three dimensional sound space may contain important cues, although clearly for research of an advanced nature.

Reporting Research as Multimedia Documents

While accessing the internet for information can be exciting and useful, the creation of research reports as Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) documents is equally important. HTML documents are the type used on the world wide web. The most obvious advantage is that the research report can contain examples of performances as video or sound recording combined with colour photographs and text.

Narrative v's Hypertext

A major difference between paper based reports, even those which employ colour photos and graphics, is that the data within a HTML document can have associated links, called hyperlinks. A hyperlink enables a click on one object to take the user to a linked object, or place. The addition of hypertext links to a research report document requires the student to see connections between information and issues. This ability to reveal the organisational structure within the students mind can provide opportunities for the student to reflect on these associations and for the teacher to gain insight into the thinking of the student.

Narrative flow of information, although interruptible by hypertext, is still an essential element of multimedia documents. The basic structure of each HTML page is a narrative document. So the logical assemblage of information in that narrative form can be displayed while hyperlinks are embedded within it and between pages.

Music Production Skills

In order to fully exploit the multimedia document for music research reporting, the student will have to acquire music production skills to embed sounds. The recorded presentation of a student's musical skills, either compositional and performance based, is becoming a fundamental skill for music students. This can simply involve an audio recording and digitisation into a suitable file format, or can extend to digital manipulation of the recording to enhance or totally reinterpret the recording. With electronic presentation of music making overtaking (in terms of quantity) concert presentation music students should clearly be developing skills in on-line presentation methods.

Empowerment Over Knowledge

As students create in a medium they gain understanding of the medium as well as the content. This statement should be almost a mantra for music educators sympathetic to experiential learning. It is no less true of multimedia presentation. While students prepare research reports as multimedia documents, they become empowered to be critical of the internet documents they explore for information. As they become aware of the strengths, limitations and tricks of creating HTML documents, they can 'read' other's documents more succinctly and quickly. They can become aware of issues such as audio format differences, the balance between text, graphics and sound, file size and loading times, site structure and information presentation models, and distinctions between good content and good presentation.


Research activities in educational music programs can be given a new lease of life with the internet as a sources of data and vehicle for presentation. While it can make research an equally appealing partner to composition, performance and listening in the music education curriculum, the internet also provides a means of global communication for both research into and presentation of music making. It enables music research to involve sound and gesture, not only text and score. I encourage educators to install and make use of internet connections in their classrooms, and to view the internet as a two way avenue for integrating the school and the world. To get the most from the the internet in music education consider it as a window on the world and as a global stage.

[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica - http://www.eb.com/ back

[2] McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media Shere Books Limited, London back

[3] QUT New Media: Andrew Sorenson's page - http://www.academy.qut.edu.au/music/newmedia/ back

[4] Net Gig - http://owl.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/net-gig/ng.html back

[5] MetaCrawler - http://metacrawler.cs.washington.edu/ back

[6] Australian Broadcasting Authority - http://www.dca.gov.au/aba/hpcov.htm back

[7] PICS page of the WWW consortium - http://www.w3.org/PICS/ back

[8] American Psychological Association (1994) Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association Fourth Edition. Washington: USA. p.218 back

[9] Beatnik - http://www.headspace.com/beatnik/index.html back

[10] Real Audio - http://www.realaudio.coml back

[11] Shockwave - http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/ back

Some Recommended Music Research Sites

Worldwide Internet Music Resources

Music Resources and Synthesizer Music

Studies in Popular Music History and Criticism

Contemporary Classical Music Composers

Contemporary Composers

Musical Instrument Sites: Yahoo!

Internet Resources for Teachers

Research Studies in Music Education

Australian Association of Research in Education

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