Stereo PlugsThose that say that MP3 recordings of music have no soul may be more correct than they realize.  One of the things that makes music memorable is the emotional impact that it can have on a human being.  It turns out that compressing audio into MP3 format can actually strip out the pieces of the musical recording that help to initiate that emotional reaction in our brains turning a feast for the senses into little more than a metophorical hamburger and fries. 

MP3 compression can reduce the size of an audio file by as much as 90% over its uncompressed form, but for years audiophiles have complained that doing makes the music sound tinny, leaves audio artifacts, and in general diminishes the overall listening experience.  With the advent of the iPod and portable MP3 players though, downloading and purchasing inferior quality MP3 files is now a common occurance for almost everyone that uses the Internet.  I got to thinking about this and decided to do some research on the topic .  What I found actually has some implications for music educators and perhaps should be taken into account when playing music in the classroom.


Music As An Emotional Experience

Everyone has gotten chills from listening to a piece of music.  Many of us continue to practice and perform on our chosen instruments simply for the joy and emotional boost that good music can have on our soul.  Think about the most profound and memorable aesthetic experience you have had as a musician.  Now try to think about the last time that you felt that same kind of emotional elation while listening to a grainy, artifact laden MP3 recording ofthe same exact piece?  Of course, personal involvement in making the music does have something to do with it, but as a whole, low quality MP3 recordings just don't have the same impact as a full, hi-fidelity recording.  

The Impact of Using MP3's In The Classroom

Listening to music as a part of the music education classroom experience is something that all good music teachers do on a regular basis.  Now, however, a great many of us carry an iPod rather than a set of CD's to class.  When we play a recording in class we are hoping to teach a musical concept yes, but we are also hoping to help the students enjoy and come to love the music we are presenting.  If we use low quality, grainy MP3 recordings then we are removing almost any hope of instilling an emotional response to the music in our students. 

Better Alternatives To MP3 Format

MP3 is not the only audio compression codec out there.  It is by far the most widely used and accepted, but there are others.  Most music educators are familiar with WAVE format files.  They take up much more space but at the same time are much more accurate when reproducing the harmonic intricacies of the music being listened to.  OGG format files are an alternative to MP3 and the lossless OGG format called FLAC is perhaps one of the most accurate (and bandwidth intensive) ways to save audio data.  Unfortunately OGG and FLAC are not supported by all MP3 players nor are they supported by all computer software programs.

If  providing an aesthetic experience is just as important as providing a learning experience in the music education classroom then perhaps it is time to rethink the use of low bandwidth MP3 compression.  By taking a few songs off our iPods and MP3 players and instead filling them with rich, detailed reproductions of musical classics perhaps we will be able to reach a few more students, setting their hearts and souls on the path to becoming a well rounded lover of music.

Note:  The articles on this site may contain referral links to sites such as Amazon and other online retailers.  The small amount of income received from these links has helped keep up and running for over ten years now.  Thank you for your support!