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Technology Tip of the Month

A few bars
July, 1997: The Musical Web

by Deborah Healey

There's nothing like a bit of music to spice up a class. I recently taught an elective called "English for Music" -- not in a computer lab -- that made extensive use of Web and software resources to supplement the music on tapes, CDs, and videos.

I made the decision not to use just my personal collection of favorites, a textbook with copyright-free music (generally folk songs), or made-for-ESL songs. I wanted to have songs that students would hear when they turned on the radio. BeatlesSince 60s and 70s music is quite popular these days, some of my vintage collection was usable. Local teens provided more material, as did the radio. The hard part was coming up with lyrics without spending hours trying to decode what I heard. In the case of a lot of current music, not even hours would do it. (Just try listening to Michael Jackson and transcribing lyrics as an exercise in frustration--and he's relatively understandable.)

In this case, as in so many others, the Web comes to the rescue. The key with finding lyrics and other music-related information on the Web is to know the name of the singer or group. You can then do a web search for that name to come up with fan clubs, most of which have short audio clips, discographies, and lots of scanned photos (good for handouts). Some also have lyrics. For example, Celine Dion is wildly popular with some of my students and on the Web. She has numerous fan clubs and song clips, including ones at
Celine Dion
Another Celine Dion site

Another approach to take is to look at some of the lyrics sites on the Web. The most useful ones I found were at
VIBEonline:[M.M.M.-Music Artists]
More than just pop, but lots of pop artists.
Welcome to the Ultimate Band List
Alphabetical search by artist/band. Lots of people.
The HitsWorld Internet Top 50
Good links to current music, and you can see specific titles as well as bands.
lyrics/uwp - ftp server
An amazing collection of lyrics, organized by artist. You need to run a Unix program called 'gunzip' to see them, though -- they're compressed in a special format.
Cyberia - York's Internet Specialist - Top 10 Music WebSites
Links to some good sites, including ones where you can hear music clips.
MusicSource Archives
Lots of links to other sites, including special interest music.

If you aren't sure of the name of the group, but the song is one you've often heard on the radio, your best bet is probably the Internet Top 50 list. I came to love this site as I looked for songs I recorded from a pop station where announcers rarely said what they were playing or who was singing. Most of those popular songs were in this list, which has links to fan clubs and lyrics.

Since half of the class was devoted to music that students brought in, they were also happy to use the Web to find information about music they liked. Their favorite spots and comments are at If we'd had more time in a computer lab, we'd probably have ended up with our own fan club pages.

The Web isn't the only music resource around. A great piece of software is David Herren's CDictation, which can be downloaded from CELIA or the Dartmouth ftp site. This Mac-only program lets you create dictations from music CDs relatively quickly and painlessly. To prepare a song, teachers click on the Set Mark button where they want each line to break, then type in the words for each line. You do need the lyrics in hand for best results, so either choose CDs that have lyrics in the liner notes (best option) or spend time on the Web looking for lyrics. The CD must be in the drive for the program to work. This means that you can use it with the whole class (as I did occasionally in my music class), or one student at a time can use it for self-study (what we do in our Learning Center).

Another nice addition to the music class were music-related crosswords. Using a program like Crossword Creator makes it easy to put together a crossword that students can do on the computer or that can be printed out for classroom use. The words were vocabulary items from different songs, and clues typically included the name of the song where the word or phrase was found as well as a definition.

US copyright note: Those with no scruples can use audio digitizers such as QuickTime or RealAudio to record whole songs from CDs or cassette tape in digital form, or even to create custom CDs. It is not a good idea to do this and put the result on the Web or in other public places, as it is a clear violation of copyright to convert a whole song into another medium. Fair use seems to be about 30 seconds of a song, however, given what appears on most websites. Using lyrics repeatedly may also infringe on copyright.

Whether you're just adding a bit of musical color to a class or creating a whole course based on music, I hope you'll find these tips save you some time and effort. Party on!

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If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009