a metal tool begins to cleave an aging piece of wood
02
Oct
2014

Hack This Book: Announcing Open Music Theory

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Written by
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Slicing Through” by MTSOfan; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing is proud to announce its first textbook: Open Music Theory, “beta” edition—co-authored by Kris ShafferBrian Moseley, and Bryn Hughes. Open Music Theory, or OMT, is an open-source, interactive, online textbook for undergraduate music theory courses. As we write on OMT’s About page, we hope that this textbook will “support active student engagement with music in the theory classroom” and that the text will “take a back seat to student music making (and breaking).”

In OMT, we strive to create what I have called a “critical textbook.” In fact, this is a core part of the vision that Robin Wharton and I have set for Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. We intend HPP to support “works that are born out of, or facilitate, community (inter)action — works that are crowdsourced or collaboratively authored, openly accessible, encourage remixing and republishing, and/or blur the lines between author and reader.” And as I wrote in “The Critical Textbook,”

While [Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing] will be casting a wide net, textbooks are an ideal target. Critical textbooks do not take students from beginning to end at the same time and place. Instead they facilitate student access to existing knowledge, and empower them to critique it, dismantle it, and create new knowledge. That’s what we want to create.

This is why OMT is open-source and not simply open-access. We have made it legally and (as much as we can) technically possible for instructors, and even students, to contribute to the text, translate it, publish it in other formats, copy it—in a word, to hack it. (Those interested in doing so may visit OMT’s project page on GitHub, and consult my articles “Open-Source Scholarship” and “Push, Pull, Fork: GitHub for Academics” for further philosophical and technical information on academic “hacking.”) We hope that this ”hackable” textbook will empower both instructors and students to critique and create knowledge during the course of their musical studies.

With OMT, we also introduce a new interactive music notation tool for the web, developed by Trinket (with some advising from me over the summer), which allows students to engage musical concepts directly from within OMT and to “hack” some of the musical examples in the text. You can see this tool in action on OMT pages such as Composing a cantus firmus and Composing a first-species counterpoint. These music “trinkets” have already made an appearance in my first-year music theory course, and they have already proven to be a useful tool for music instruction. You can read more about how this technology works here.

Because this textbook is in “beta” edition, that means that there will still be a few kinks to work out. While the content for the first edition is more-or-less complete, there are a few things missing. For example, you may visit a page and see a note that says “insert trinket here,” or “updated graphic needed.” Also, some of the video content is a bit rough-and-tumble, as the videos were created originally for individual classes, rather than the public at-large.

Throughout this academic year, the three authors will be using the textbook in our courses, noting where updates need to be made, replacing rough-and-tumble video content with more professional videos, and adding more interactive music trinkets. However, we are announcing the beta edition publicly, in the hopes that a few others will join us in testing it out. For example, many theory instructors already supplement a standard textbook with more exhaustive or up-to-date materials on two-voice counterpoint, classical form, pop/rock music, or post-tonal music. We invite instructors to examine those sections of OMT that might work as a supplement for their course’s current textbook, and use it in their courses. We also invite those instructors (or their students) to submit feedback or, better, “pull requests” (GitHub language for suggested content to add/change in the text). If you have specific suggestions for the textbook, please email Kris or fork the textbook in GitHub and submit a pull request. This will not only help us improve the textbook, but will also help it move towards being a more community-driven resource. We also welcome more general comments about the project and Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing in the comments section below.

The writing of OMT was supported by a crowdfunding campaign. Trinket generously matched our first $2500 of community donations with $2500 of their own. We are beyond grateful for all of this support. A full list of the non-anonymous financial supporters can be found on the About page. If you know one of them, please thank them!

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