Lesson 3 - Computers and Applications in Music

OBJECTIVE: This lesson looks at  the basic concepts and terminology of computers and their relationship to various musical applications.  Terminology and concepts learned will be enhanced through a unit activity.

McGill Digital Orchestra

The McGill Digital Orchestra project performing a new piece written for new Digital Musical Instruments during the Music+Technology Incubator at CIRMMT, McGill University, Montreal.


Computers and technology continue to advance at a dizzying rate.

Computer processing power and hardware requirements double every 18 months.

Using computers to generate music dates back to the 1950s (Musique Concrete).

The first personal computers were introduced in the mid-1970s.

Only two major personal computer platforms have survived-the Apple Macintosh series and the PC series.

Apple Macintosh is quite popular with musicians.

The PC platform running Windows dominates most of the personal computer market.

Components of a Computer System-Input Devices

Keyboard-the primary means to enter text and numbers

Mouse-a device that allows the user to point-and-click on the screen

Joystick-A device with a movable stick that can be moved in any one of four directions on a X,Y axis.  Most popular with computer games.

Modem-A device which allows computers to send information to one another over phone lines. Modems may be either external or built-in the computer which is now the most popular.

Scanner-A device that works like a photo copier except that rather than printing a copy it transfers the image into the computer.

Printer-A device that can produce hard copies of documents onto paper

MIDI-A means for a computer to communicate with other MIDI devices such as a synthesizer/keyboard. MIDI will be discussed in detail later.

Microphone - Connects to the computer via a USB cable or MIDI interface for recording audio.

Computer Processing Speeds

The speed of a computer system depends on several factors, including chip design, clock speed and the number of bits processed at a time.

A bit is information in the form of binary numbers that the computer can only deal with. In a binary system, there are only two digits, 0 and 1.

Each of these 0s or 1s is called a binary digit or bit.

Bits are strung together in a group to form bytes.

The clock speed is the rate at which the computer makes decisions and is now measured in gigahertz. -Formerly megahertz. (GHz). Current processor clock speeds range from about 1.6 to 2.6 GHz or more (1.6 to 2.6 billion cycles per second).

Other factors such as back-side cache and the internal bus speed also affect the overall performance of the computer.

Back-side cacheis a small amount of high speed memory that stores repetitive instructions for quick access.

Bus speedis how fast the system sends information to and from the processor.


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