Friday, April 5, 2013

Capturing Time (musically)

Recently, I had the idea to do a theme of "song lengths" over at Estimation 180. Inspired by a recent comment from Fawn, I chose Santana's Oye Como Va. At first, I opened up iTunes and took a screen shot of the music player.  I threw in an album cover and edited it to look like this, asking "How long is Santana's Oye Como Va?":

I can get away with directly asking the question at Estimation 180. How would you make your estimate? I'd make my estimate based on the time played so far (1:26) and the location of the playhead in the timeline. I absolutely love that students have to use time here, specifically 60 seconds in a minute. Furthermore, I'm hoping students use some type of spatial reasoning with the timeline, either as a fraction, percentage, proportion, or something else. But that's it. Can we go anywhere else with this? This task feels constrained. This doesn't capture the medium of music correctly. There's got to be more, right?

The more I thought about it, I was curious of better ways (or the best way) to capture time and music. Let me rephrase that. If I were going for a more perplexing approach and wanted to create a 3 Act task to share at, how would I go about doing that? I remembered that I own the djay app and experimented with a really lengthy Jethro Tull song titled, Thick As A Brick. This is where I need your help. I'd appreciate you checking out Act 1 and letting me know the first question that comes to mind. Or watch it here and leave a comment/question in the comments.

Based on some initial questions, I'm thinking of revising Act 1 where the virtual record player looks more like this. (notice the record?)

The virtual record player opens up many possibilities with this task. There's a white tape marker on the record for precise tracking when playing the track. I feel there's a lot more math opportunities here, but at the same time it feels a little contrived?
Am I over-thinking this?
What do you see here?
What are your thoughts?
I need some help. Thanks in advance.

Spin it,


  1. The very fact that when I tried to play this, the video (listed at 0:41) seemed to take time to spool (necessitating a pause), then after the audio "skip" (at about 0:22) the video suddenly ended... implies that there could be a lot more to this than just "the length of a song".

    How much longer there is to a song doesn't necessarily equate to when the song will finish playing, not on the internet. What's the bandwidth? How accurate is the progress bar?

    I recognize though that you're looking for musical connections, more than electronic ones. So how accurate is a MEASURED bar, as in if we pegged it to a metronome? ie- If a song is so long, how many bars of music is that? Does the time signature change? If not, what if it did, what if the song was in 3/4 time instead of 4/4 time? Forget the fact that it would sound more like a waltz, how many extra measures does that add?

    What is the average length of songs by this composer? Or the median length? Which is a more accurate representation? You've got a visible waveform there too. What percentage of the song would you say is Forte? What about Pianissimo? Even without the visible waveform, at what time in the song will the progress bar reach the "H" in the word "Hits"? What if the font was changed to stretch the entire bar, what then? Wait, that's electronics again.

    This is just off the top of my head, feel free to redirect my creative energies to something more specific. Music is cool.

    1. For just off the top of your head, this is great insight. Thanks Gregory. Music is cool! For sure. I really like your idea about time signature. Sorry the Internet and bandwidth was a hurdle.

  2. I think that what you're trying to accomplish with estimating song length works better with the picture of the iTunes bar, rather than the video of a record. I think that a picture works better because you can force students to use 1:26. With a video, you could pause it at 1:00 or 2:00 and not have to worry about the seconds as much.

    It's also not obvious as to what you're looking for with the video. Am I supposed to be thinking about the needle on the record? In reality, the waveform is much more interesting to me. But what do you do with that information?

    1. Great points man. Thanks for the feedback. I just posted the full lesson at found at this link.