Joining a faculty led collaboration in Munich, EECS student Beth Hadley developed a software toolkit to help students to learn about music theory.
From left to right: Professor Michael Cuthbert (MIT), Vladimir Viro (LMU), Beth Hadley (MIT) and Lars Johnson (MIT) during a visit to Munich to collaborate with partners at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

Background

As a freshman I contributed to the project music21, a software toolkit developed at MIT that allows researchers to analyze music. Professor Michael Cuthbert founded the project several years before I began contributing to the software, allowing my work and contributions to build upon what had already been developed. In Spring of 2012 we began developing primitive software that could be used in educational settings to help students learn about music theory. Our work was simple - small programs that indicated if students had written a scale correctly or labeled a chord properly. But immediately it was clear there was great potential to this kind of work.

Time in Munich

The summer of 2012 we travelled to Germany thanks to the MIT-Germany Seed Fund grant to collaborate with researchers at LMU-Munich and Vladimir Viro and his work with Peachnote. Vladimir's work allowed researchers to enter a sequence of notes and Peachnote would indicate which pieces in its vastly large database of music contained that sequence. The time we spent together was much more than simply a technical discussion about the correlation between music21 and Peachnote. We shared ideas that inspired work on how to conjoin aspects of music21 and Peachnote to create more powerful music analysis systems. I was certainly extremely inspired by the experience of meeting Vladimir in person, but perhaps even more meaningful were the intangible aspects - the trip really made music come to life for me as we visited many of the quintessential locations of classical music - Mozart's home and the church where Bach performed, to name a few. We returned to MIT with renewed passion for our work and a more holistic understanding of its potential.

Project Impact

Over the following two years, I continued to follow the tremendous progress Professor Cuthbert, Vladimir, and others were making in this domain. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of development to me was the continuation of the work to develop educational systems to help students learn music theory. In the fall of 2014 Professor Cuthbert revolutionized the course "21M.051 Fundaments of Music" by introducing this music software as course assignments. Students would complete their problem sets online, using the software Professor Cuthbert had developed based on music21. I was invited to serve as a teaching assistant for the class, as I had been involved in the early development of music21's education software and had much interest in seeing it used to help students learn. I couldn't have been more pleased to return to the project that had so inspired me freshman year, and see so much positive development. One of my favorite moments last semester as a TA was the day Professor Cuthbert introduced Bach's famous work Toccata and Fugue. At then end of the trip to Germany summer 2012 we had given Professor Cuthbert a coffee mug from Bach's birthplace in Germany, with Bach's Toccata and Fugue inscribed on the side. Professor Cuthbert brought the mug to class on this day and one of the students in the class actually asked where the mug was from. Professor Cuthbert and I spontaneously shared a smile, and our response meant so much more than the words we spoke "Bach's home, Leipzig Germany".

Lifelong Value

The MIT-Germany Seed Fund certainly spawned a continued collaboration between Vladimir Viro and music21, but more than that, it spawned in me a passion for music and technology that will persist long after I graduate.

  • Germany
  • Seed Fund
  • EECS