Data and the Practicing Musician

(cross-posted at ChoralNet)

One of the great hallmarks of the mobile computing era is the role of data in everyday lives. The omnipresence of computing devices means that an enormous amount of data is being generated, in real-time, as well as being analyzed. This data doesn’t just have to be quantitative (or “number-y”)– social media and other communication tools generate qualitative data as well (or text-based– think observations, reflections, and notes). While we often think of data as being a scientific or mathematical concept, the truth is that all reflection is based on data– both quantitative and qualitative, used in ways that help us answer questions about ourselves and our performance.

MusicJournal is an iOS app which seeks to give us data about practice sessions. A musician enters the name of an exercise or piece of rep, as well as a BPM goal. The app will then allow the user to start a timer to track the length of the time spent on each piece (as well as in total). It also has a metronome built-in to measure progress towards the goal BPM (as well as encouraging practice with a metronome itself!). Using these, a student could generate an accurate practice log automatically by letting the app run while they practice. This quantitative data can help us set goals about practice time, execution of technical passages, and give a little bit of structure to choosing a balance of exercises, etudes and repertoire during a practice session. An unstructured “notes” section lets the user record qualitative data about the practice session, including reminders/suggestions for next time, links to online recordings as examples, or score markings or edits. Used as a reflective tool, this allows the musician to add journaling and critique to the raw data of time and tempo.
The app is designed for a single-user, but a backup feature allows someone to e-mail a copy of their record to another person (conductor, private teacher, etc). Furthermore, while it is meant for individual practice, it could just as easily work for logging and capturing an entire group rehearsal.
When we consider the massive amount of data that we as conductors process in a rehearsal– notes about our performance as well as those about both the individuals and whole ensemble– looking for ways to capture and log that information can result in powerful reflective opportunities. Apps like MusicJournal represent, in many ways, an early attempt at identifying some of the data that we as musicians think is important and relevant to the art and science of music. The opportunity is for us, then, to find creative and useful ways to take advantage of it.
What do you use for data in your rehearsals? How do you capture or analyze it? What is your view on the role of data in the rehearsal or process?

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