"I invite you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty."
Is that what I really sound like?

"The idea for the Music Animation Machine started with a hallucination ..."

The Music Animation Machine is a tool for visualizing music.

"Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves -- and can be understood just by watching."

Stephen Malinowski, the creator of the The Music Animation Machine asserts that the MAM display might aid in comprehending complex musical textures.

"Reading music is demanding, even with a single line; when reading a full score, it’s hard to broaden one’s focus and keep track of many things happening at once. Watching MAM scores might help prepare a person for this."

I'm not sure if that would be the case, as viewing the animations seems to me to be a passive experience, while processing a musical score, especially in performance is an active one.  Furthermore, as Malinowski freely admits, the MAM only shows the relative relations between a composition's pitches, rhythms, and harmonies, and does not account for dynamics.  But I wonder if viewing these visual representations could strengthen or otherwise enhance the musical imagery of our "inner ear."  Their possible use in early music education is also intriguing: 

"MAM scores can be understood by young children; it’s possible that this would influence how they conceived of (and listened to) music, and that this would help them to learn to read music. (This is speculation, of course.)"

The cognitive structures for the perception of music are present at birth, and like those for speech, they are developed through experience.  W. Jay Dowling writes in The Psychology of Music:

"The rapidity of automatic  speech processing depends on extensive perceptual learning with the language in question.  Similarly, the music listener's facility in grasping a piece of music depends on perceptual learning gained through experience . . . Further, we can see in the development of language from its earliest stages the predisposition of the child to speak, and the ways in which basic elements of language, already present in infancy, are molded through perceptual learning and acculturation into adult structures (Brown, 1973).  Similarly, we can find elements of adult cognitive structures for music in young infants, and can watch them develop in complexity under the influence of culture and individual experience" [empahsis mine]. 

For obvious reasons not much research has been devoted to the visual perception of music, but perhaps these animations could constitute an additional element of the "individual experience" so crucial to cognitive development.

You can read about the different types of MAM animations here (I'd love to see some animations using LINES, BALLS, and WEDGES!), as well as a timeline of its development here.  The software is free to download, but requires MIDI files, and does not run on Mac OS.

Here's another favorite of mine, from the MAM YouTube channel.


In the past ten years, the following numbers of MAM videotapes and DVDs have been sent to

90 elementary schools
48 middle and secondary schools
81 colleges and universities
14 libraries and museums

My understanding is that these have been incorporated into the music curricula at many of these institutions.

So, in a few years, we may be seeing whether this exposure has any effect.

Thanks for that info! I'm interested to know how the MAM materials are being used at the university level, because now that you mention it (having taught university general music classes) I can definitely see them being useful in that setting, i.e. providing a visual correlation to the music. It's like listening to music with the aid of visual annotations.

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