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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Shea

Edifying book work

My son Oscar was born in late November. Since then we visited the NICU for a total of 73 days and now, thankfully, he's home and doing well. We're so grateful for that.


A big professional plan of mine was to get a book proposal out to Lever Press by the end of January. Considering Oscar's original due date was Feb 2, that seemed like a realistic one, but perhaps obviously my course has changed. Now I find myself itching to make progress on the manuscript but don't quite have the time and/or structure to sit down and work on something with a singular focus. As a result, I've been brainstorming ways to scratch the research/productivity itch without putting undue pressure on myself. Anything I do over the next few months needs to be secondary to spending quality time with my son. All my friends with parents continue to tell me how special this time is — being home with my wife and son all day — and I readily agree. It's been borderline magical.


At any rate, I'm taking up two main activities to fill the gaps if and when I have the time: playing guitar and coding in JavaScript. (I guess blogging here is a third activity in a clearly meta sort of way.) My logic is that if I'm going to be writing a book that mostly focuses on guitar performance, I should brush up. I'm a bass player by training, so I understand the fretboard quite well, but my technique is extremely lacking.


(By the way, it bears stating that my research primarily focuses on guitar performance because it's an extremely popular instrument across many musical styles. And I did all the work to scrape and process songs from ultimate-guitar.com for the Guitar Pro Tablature corpus.)


JavaScript comes into play for a few reasons. Foremost because I want the book to be open access. It would be extremely hypocritical of me to claim to want to bridge the gap between practicing popular-music artists and music theory if there was a financial barrier to even starting the conversation. Secondarily, I want the book to be accessible. Think pop-up definitions when you hover over highlighted text, embedded videos, and animated fretboard visualizations. I had already been thinking about these features for some time now, but recently I was (extremely) inspired by Toby Rush's presentation to the Pedagogy Interest Group at the Society for Music Theory annual meeting. Toby outlined numerous online tools he uses to teach his award-winning curriculum at University of Dayton. One of these tools is a virtual fretboard that can be used to play pitches from the browser. After chatting with Toby during his visit to Arizona for NASM, he mentioned that it would be extremely easy to modify his tools such that I can upload a csv, for example, and it would "play" a tablature file in real time. With such a tool, the analytical possibilities seem endless.


Learning to code in JavaScript will ultimately enable me to produce a snappy web-based proposal that hopefully showcases my vision for a truly accessible music theory book manuscript. To this end, part of my blog posts will be specifically focused on coding. My current plan is to post snippets from Coursera's Programming with JavaScript course. This might change as my skills and interests develop, though.


Outside of coding, I likely won't be posting any guitar videos on this platform. First of all, I'm just garbage right now. Second, I think there are better avenues such as my currently non-operational music-based Instagram page shdocea_mus.


Oh, and occasionally I'll probably post about other research things that have been churning in my brain, such as the parallels between AI's current wrestling with ethics and institutionalized discriminatory forces and music theory's own biases in corpus studies. But more on that later.


Logistically, coding posts will be tagged as such. Other things will go under general updates. Hopefully this plan keeps me accountable.


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