OER Review: Musicology/Ethnomusicology
by Elaine Sandoval and Natalie Oshukany, Music
INTRODUCTION: What is an OER?
The term Open Educational Resource (OER) refers to any resource for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes that is openly licensed and free of charge for its use. These resources come in many forms, including textbooks, audio-visual materials, and course modules. While certain resources may be freely accessed (e.g. open access journals), a true OER has an intellectual property license that allows creators to grant copyright permissions to their work. These public licenses extend the rights of creators, allowing users to “reuse, revise, and remix” resources in various ways, for various purposes.
There are several advantages to creating and using OERs, which support a collaborative, shared, and democratized knowledge-sharing economy. For students, these resources offer an alternative to textbooks published under the traditional models of academic and education presses, which are often prohibitively expensive. Students can also retain access to and reference OERs past the end of their course, or even their tenure at an academic institution. For educators and self-learners, the openness of resources make them creative pedagogical tools; one can keep materials up-to-date, and adapt content for a particular course.
The affordances of OERs, however, do not ensure that these materials are in fact created, used, or maintained in appropriate ways, which depend on webs of context and labor. As we show in this critical review of musicological and ethnomusicological (from here on M/E) OERs, the potential quality and usefulness of OERs can vary. But the growing community of OER creators, supporters, and users–and the recent influx of NY state funding for such endeavors–speaks to the need and desire for accessible educational resources, particularly at the college level. Thus, we also suggest avenues for the future development of M/E OERs that, we hope, will help to ensure the quality, accessibility, and visibility of such powerfully adaptive resources for teachers and students of music.
In this short overview, we present and briefly analyze textbooks, courses, audio-visual (A/V) resources, in addition to other openly accessible digital materials relevant to music studies. We also point out some of the spaces where one can further peruse related resources.
OER development in M/E is a highly dynamic field, and there are a few timely, discipline-specific initiatives that professors of music might keep an eye out for. Open Access Musicology is a major recent initiative founded by a team of musicologists to create and bring together articles in musicology and ethnomusicology that are open and accessible to undergraduate students. Their peer review process includes student reviews to monitor submissions for accessibility and relevance to an undergraduate audience. The American Musicological Society has also recently started a Pedagogy Study Group to cultivate and share open resources for teaching music history, which features many digital resources and OERs, including courses. These initiatives indicate that the recent disciplinary backing for OERs in M/E reaches beyond individual university efforts.
Demand for OERs, and the nature of OERs’ digital accessibility, also mean that such initiatives can–and often do–span geographic regions. Data generously provided by Brooklyn College OER coordinator Miriam Deutch demonstrates that their music OER textbook has been accessed in 120 countries (with hundreds of downloads in countries in Asia and Africa). The Digital Commons Network map, which indicates live downloads of open-access articles in a variety of music subdisciplines, gives a similar sense of the geographical scope that open access materials, and OERs especially, might reach.
ANALYSIS: State of the Field
At the time of writing, relatively few openly licensed M/E textbooks exist for college-level courses, and those that do share similar limitations. In what follows, we offer an overview of current M/E open textbooks, focusing on: the nature of their content, issues of authorship, the affordances of their copyright licenses and digital formats, and avenues for improvement.
The vast majority of openly licensed M/E textbooks follow standard “music appreciation” texts in terms of both organization and content. They are largely chronological and–despite titles that reference “music” in general–the authors overwhelmingly focus on Western and European art music (WAM) repertoire and composers. Additionally, descriptive rather than critical approaches prevail. For example, a course/textbook from OER provider Lumen Learning, Music Appreciation, cycles through the standardized Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century periods, and content is organized around works by canonical white, male composers (e.g. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). Lumen Learning’s Music 101 course/text is similarly structured around the standard WAM canon (extended to include Medieval and Renaissance musics), as is Understanding Music: Past and Present, the multi-authored textbook used by the University System of Georgia. Other texts make an effort to showcase more diverse styles of music, including some information about popular musics in the U.S. in the co-authored Discover the Arts, vol. 1: Intro, Visual Art, Music and Dance, and chapters on “American Vernacular Music,” “Jazz,” and “World Music” in Music Appreciation: Its Language, History, and Culture–a multi-authored text by Brooklyn College music faculty. One notable text takes a more critical approach to course content: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Art, Music & Culture, by Clayton Funk, functions as a guide for a web book of Artist and Musician Biographies maintained by Ohio State University. A Quick and Dirty Guide approaches art and music via questions of creativity, status, and value, and the textbook’s abstract summarizes its critical goals as follows:
We will study not only art and music to better understand these forms, we will also study where those forms came from and the cultural and economic impact they had on the public. We will also learn about how the artists and musicians dealt with or got around gatekeepers, along with who could get access to these forms of art and music.
Finally, some openly-licensed texts are not explicitly intended for M/E courses, but contain chapters that may be relevant for instructors of music, particularly those interested in focusing on modern technology and media. One such example is the chapter “Music Recording, “Sharing,” and the Information Economy” from Media, Society, Culture, and You, an introductory media studies text.
One of the greatest weaknesses of these texts, however, is the general lack of attention to non-European, non-art musics. Furthermore, when such information is included, it is often problematic. It is our contention that this is partly a result of authorship; the majority of textbook contributors have advanced degrees in music education, performance, or musicology, while only one text–Music Appreciation: Its Language, History, and Culture–includes contributions by an ethnomusicologist. Perhaps because the authors lack the resources and proper training to deal with non-European musical traditions, references to such practices are quite brief. In some cases, “world music” is confined to a single chapter, in which musical practices from a handful of geographic areas (including entire continents) are each covered in a single paragraph. In other cases, all references to non-European, non-art musics are relegated to the Appendix. In this latter text, musical traditions representing vast geographic areas are summarized in as few as two sentences. Including these references only in the Appendix visually minimizes and segregates these cultural traditions, and the content itself sometimes includes problematic references to evolutionary musical “development.”
In a few cases, texts focusing on specific music cultures are available and could be used for a unit within a course, or in combination with other materials. These “world music” offerings are sometimes developed with a younger student audience in mind, but could be adapted and made relevant to undergraduate students. Examples include a unit on Balinese Gamelan available on OpenStax, as well as one on Hindustani Music. However, to date there are no OER textbooks that focus wholly on world music, nor are there any based in the field of ethnomusicology.
One positive affordance of these digital texts–especially in a field as reliant on audio-visual materials as music–is the inclusion of web links embedded within the text. While strictly copyrighted musical scores and recordings often make traditionally published M/E texts prohibitively expensive, the majority of these openly licensed textbooks include links to YouTube videos, web-based articles, Wikimedia resources, and other online content. The flexibility of this digital text format offers students cost-free avenues to access A/V resources and related materials, and allows for both multi-modal dialogue between online resources and the opportunity to continuously update these embedded links. At the same time, the inclusion of embedded links requires maintenance, and some of the links included in existing textbooks are no longer functioning. We will speak more to issues concerning A/V OERs below.
In general, there is a significant need for openly licensed music textbooks that offer informed, sensitive, and deep engagements with musical traditions outside of Western Europe and the United States, as well as critical approaches that move past descriptive taxonomies of musical features and historical timelines. This is particularly important given the cultural diversity of contemporary college student populations, the need to challenge the power dynamics and Eurocentrism of most university music departments, and the intellectual limitations of textbooks on “music” that fail to take into account the multiplicity and complexity of musical practices throughout the world. Fortunately, the licenses under which existing OER textbooks are published are among the most accommodating offered through Creative Commons, allowing for remixing, tweaking, and additions. Instructors can improve upon or contribute to these resources in piecemeal fashion, or create entirely new OER texts that respond to the aforementioned needs. OERs also offer opportunities to include authorship from scholars not located in the “global north” institutions that have dominated academic publishing, and thus have great potential for offering increasingly diverse perspectives on music.
Open and free course modules offer more variety in terms of content and authorship. These resources are accessible through several online repositories, but the most extensive collection of M/E OER courses is available through MIT OpenCourseWare. This site, announced in 2001 and supported in large part through philanthropic grants, houses the web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content.1
Over 30 courses (largely undergraduate) are listed under “Music History,” although several of these might be better categorized under “Music Theory” or “Composition.” Over half of these courses focus on non-European or non-art musics, including “Reggae as Transnational Culture,” “Brazilian Society Through Its Music,” (in Portuguese) and “Introduction to Anglo-American Folk Music.” Several others focus exclusively on Western art music traditions, including: “Monteverdi to Mozart: 1600-1800,” “Symphony and Concerto,” and “Beethoven to Mahler.” Some courses, although housed within different disciplinary categories, are useful for M/E educators and learners, including “The Anthropology of Sound” and “Gender and Japanese Popular Culture.” The disciplinary training of course creators is also more diverse than that of OER textbooks authors, and includes anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, literature scholars, linguists, dance scholars, musicologists, composer-theorists, and composers. This diversity is reflected in the various courses on non-European musics, which engage deeply and meaningfully with critical literature on their respective topics. Depending on the creator, the range of supporting materials offered as part of these course modules varies, but can include: lecture notes, exams, scores, sample video lectures, sample student work, instrument demo videos, listening guides, reading guides, and links to related resources. A handful include something called “instructor insights”–essentially statistics and information regarding the classroom space, pre-requisites, assessment practices, how student time was spent, and how assignments and activities were sequenced. These insights are intended to “enhance the value” of the course for instructors.
The successful use or adaptation of these varied course materials depends on several factors. One of the greatest limitations of these courses is that, while their syllabi are open and free, they are largely built on paywalled A/V materials and readings. While educators and students housed at institutions with journal subscriptions and robust libraries may be able to freely access such materials, this presents a significant barrier for individuals who do not have such access–particularly independent learners outside of the academy. The supplementary materials also vary in terms of their usefulness; lecture notes, for example, can consist of a set of bullet points, or questions that function as prompts for the original instructor. For outside readers, it can be unclear what instructors intended to convey in these notes, or how they used them in their classes. As with the OER textbooks, the openness and freeness of these courses do not ensure their democratic use, and they come with their own set of limitations and challenges. The integration of open courses and open textbooks and A/V materials is one avenue through which these resources might be made more accessible and useful.
The UK-based Open University also has several courses, modules, and A/V resources available for the study of music. Perhaps due to their decades of commitment to open access in higher education, these resources are very well developed and they have a noticeably greater ethnomusicological presence in their authorship and content than the other texts and courses reviewed here.
Uniquely crucial to the teaching of undergraduate-level courses in both musicology and ethnomusicology is the use of A/V materials that represent music and dance performance, and that are made available both for classroom usage as well as student usage as they do reading, assignments, and review outside of the classroom. Such materials are especially important to OER initiatives, as they have previously made the use of traditional textbooks that have CDs or online A/V supplements to be both cost-prohibitive and unwieldy. In the following section, we present and examine some of the main repositories and databases of A/V materials that can be used in M/E OER-based classes. The availability of A/V materials is perhaps the area of OER development in music studies which remains the most severely lacking. This issue also reproduces and reinforces the aforementioned shortcomings of ethnomusicological resources in comparison to resources for the study of Western art music.
Many students and professors may first be driven to seek out materials on popular and free streaming sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud (amongst others). As explained at the outset of this overview, OERs are unique in their licensing practices. Websites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud host materials with a variety of licensing agreements. Search parameters can be modified in order to locate materials with the appropriate licensing for usage as OERs. Here we link guides to maneuvering the searches on Vimeo, Soundcloud and YouTube, as well as how to input CC licenses on a YouTube video–although it is important to note that there is not always consistent oversight regarding the use of these licenses on these sites. One of the other major barriers to usage is the impermanence of materials hosted on these sites, which has been a challenge to the sustainability of A/V OERs. The great openness of these hosting sites also can raise issues of locating and verifying high quality and academically sound examples. More general explanation on locating and identifying Public Domain and Creative Commons media content can be found here.
Academically oriented databases devoted to E/M A/V materials are also available as OERs. Open Music, an initiative launched by Alexander Street Press in 2016, is the database which holds perhaps the most promise for integrating A/V resources alongside written and archival materials in music. However, for the time being it is almost wholly devoted to Western art music. This is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that audio materials are searchable only by ensemble/performer and composer. However, behind its paywall, Alexander Street Press (owned by ProQuest) also hosts such important A/V archives as Smithsonian Global Sound, Ethnographic Sound Archives, Dance Online, Ethnographic Video Online, as well as the Garland Encyclopedia for World Music. By increasingly using its for-profit services to make other materials open access, we hope that some of the A/V materials available elsewhere in Alexander Street Press might eventually be made available in Open Music.
There are also many non-profit efforts to develop A/V databases for music OERs. Some have similarly demonstrated the privileging of Western art music and limitations of access to A/V materials in other cultures. For example, the Free Open Resources in Music Studies has a space to include examples of material “beyond the concert hall”; however, this database continues to be empty while uploads have been made as examples of Western art music. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was one of the first institutions to develop a Free Open Access Music Library, although it includes exclusively classical art music recordings.
The visual components of musical performance are often crucial for teaching and learning about non-Western art music and dance practices. EVIA (Ethnographic Video for Instruction and Analysis) is an open access2 digital archive made available from Indiana University and the University of Michigan. EVIA is specifically devoted to and organized around pedagogy, and the helpful search category of “venue type” demonstrates its relevance and accessibility to learning about non-art musics. Indiana University also has Archives of Traditional Music, although only one collection–the Archive of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories–has so far been made available online.
These initiatives also indicate an important concern to keep in mind–the difference between openly licensed resources and OERs created specifically for educational purposes (at the undergraduate level). This differentiation is significant, particularly in the perusal of A/V materials, and A/V databases also force us to consider the collection and usage of metadata. The metadata and categorizing practices of many major databases indicate that they are built for a primary audience of scholars working on specific research projects–they are difficult to maneuver when searching for materials that more generally represent a genre or topic at an introductory level. For example, the Library of Congress has extensive holdings of digitized audio recordings, but they are difficult to browse, and are organized for the purpose of navigating specific research-oriented searches. Other digital archives are similarly openly accessible, although geared more towards scholarly research than usage as OERs. Examples include: the Dismarc Discovering Music Archive; the American Folklife Center archives (organized by topic/collection); the John and Ruby Lomax Collection; the audio as well as video components of the Alan Lomax Collection; the Chris Strachwitz recordings; and the Smithsonian Folkways playlists. Europeana Collections also has open access recordings of primarily European folk musics, with detailed explanations of licensing on each item. There are also several sites which host Creative Commons audio and music resources, although these are geared more towards creative projects than teaching and learning practices; one example is the Free Music Archive (see also the LibGuide on Audio and Music maintained by the City University of Hong Kong).
At their heart, OERs and other open access resources represent a great effort to take advantage of new digital technologies and make educational and scholastic resources much more accessible than they ever have been. At the same time, these resources should be handled critically, and consistently evaluated for true openness and equitability by professors and students alike. While OERs may be authored collaboratively, remixed and edited by others, and published outside of traditional academic presses and other institutions, they hold the same potential for reproducing many of the issues that our disciplines have already confronted, and continue to confront. In the case of OERs for musicology and ethnomusicology specifically, we encounter the same privileging of Western art music that is symptomatic of many traditional texts and databases. Moreover, we find that some of the platforms intended to make A/V resources for music more open and equitable continue to privilege classical Western music in their infrastructures–namely, the search tools and metadata used to categorize resources.
The usage and creation of OERs in general also require that professors and faculty attend to and discuss unique issues of access and power with their students. First of all, the move beyond traditional textbooks and academic presses requires faculty and students to reflect together on how to consider and evaluate authorship, legitimacy, authenticity, quality, and licensing when confronted with the vast amount of resources accessible online. It is also an opportunity to discuss issues of knowledge production and related labor–where it is based, what practices and knowledge are privileged, and why. Such issues could be productively attended to through increasing open pedagogy practices in collaboration with students. OER efforts in general also require faculty, our institutions, and our disciplinary organizations to reflect on issues of academic labor and how it is recognized. A helpful critical take on OER practices highlights many of the issues concerning contingent labor that we should keep in mind and seek to change.
Moving forward, we offer some suggestions and reflections for the further development of OERs in musicology and ethnomusicology, and highlight specific issues that creators and users might consider. Regarding the inequities between music cultures represented, ethnomusicologists need to be more involved in the creation of OERs. Resources and commentary from the Society of Ethnomusicology, as well as from individual ethnomusicologists, were noticeably lacking in the perusal of open access materials. There are a few potential areas in which a team or a professional organization-backed effort based in ethnomusicology could contribute significantly to the cultivation of OERs:
Building a list of traditional music and dance archives in other countries and a general overview of what they contain. Many countries–especially those in the “Global South”–maintain digital databases and archives of music practices, although these have very limited international visibility and can be challenging to explore for those with limited linguistic and/or local understanding of academia. Pulling together a list of such archives would rapidly make resources on non-Western music cultures, and those in other languages, much more accessible to university audiences. UCLA Library has a unique ethnomusicology guide that breaks down archives and resources by region in this manner.
Making our own OERs with students. We can think about differentiating open access materials from open resources meant to be educational. It is important for many A/V resources, especially of diverse musical practices, to maintain their copyrights and royalties, especially when they ensure that traditional artists and culture bearers retain authorship and income. Indeed, this is an issue for which ethnomusicologists have often been primary advocates. Moreover, do educational resources need to be the highest quality recorded performance? Many universities have student “world music” ensembles that could be recorded and shared digitally to demonstrate, for example, specific instruments, performance techniques, phrases or ornamentations, etc., and such A/V resources could be highly educational in combination with resources that are more often paywalled. (For example, UCLA has made their Ethnomusicology Archive open access online, and the majority of recordings take place in educational settings). Such work would resonate with recent efforts to extend OER into open pedagogy practices, where students also get involved in the authorship of educational resources.
Making our own OERs during fieldwork. During fieldwork, instead of only prioritizing the high quality recording of formal performances, ethnomusicologists could also make more of an effort to create recordings for educational purposes and in collaboration with their interlocutors–including upfront discussions about making such recordings open access. Such efforts would also resonate with recent attempts in collaborative ethnography and anthropology to support indigenous communities in building their own digital documentation and databases of cultural practices (see e.g. Kim Christen’s work to develop digital hosting site Mukurtu and development of traditional knowledge licensing).
Ethnomusicologists or the Society of Ethnomusicology could devise and articulate strategies for creating metadata and search parameters appropriate to research and educational usage of ethnomusicological audiovisual resources.
The development of OERs, especially in the fields of musicology and ethnomusicology, has the potential to greatly change and improve university pedagogies in these disciplines, as well as the opening of knowledge about the world’s musical practices more generally. At this still-early stage, we hope to have highlighted some of the issues we already confront and might expect, and to have offered some thoughts on how we might continue improving the reach, scope, and equitability of open educational resources.
APPENDIX: Additional Materials
A few other digital materials should be mentioned for their potential consideration and usage as E/M OERs. These resources may be useful to educators with specific goals in mind, including: finding videos for lectures, demonstrating examples of musical instruments, identifying materials for students to expand on in assignments, and illustrating lessons on evidence-based research with primary source materials.
Open access encyclopedia:
Oxford Music Online/Grove Music has a few dozen completely open access articles on music-related topics.
Resources on musical instruments:
Podcasts on music-related topics:
Afropop holds a series of podcasts on music from Africa and the African diaspora
Sheet music examples are uniquely important to the study of classical Western art music, especially beyond the introductory level. Some databases of open access sheet music include:
Sonic Dictionary at Duke: Archive of sounds to help students understand sound studies concepts, resources created by class projects university students.
Traveling Suitcases at University of Florida: not digital open resources, but will send you material objects and cultural artificats related to the topic being studied in class.
Open access music journals (although these will usually be more appropriate for music scholars than for introductory-level courses). Lists of open access music journals are maintained by:
Lists of other musicological open research resources are maintained by:
Courses use the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license which allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially (creators must be credited and new creations must be licensed under the identical terms).↩
While it is open access, EVIA requires the creation of login credentials, which can take several days to be approved.↩