My First Data Visualization Toy

I made a toy!

I made a fun little web app for visualizing some interesting things about sampling distributions and the standard error of a mean (pictured below). The app allows you to change parameters with the sliders on the left to see how sample size and standard deviation affect the standard error of a mean — and how sampling distributions of the mean approach normality as the number of samples drawn from a population increases.

You can play with it at this link (or click the picture):


I built this app in R

I’ve recently been enjoying learning about the possibilities that the free, open-source statistical computing and graphics language “R” offers. It’s an amazingly flexible platform for organizing, visualizing, and analyzing data. Working in R requires acquiring some fluency with basic programming language. However, there is an astounding amount of free learning resources available on the web in the form of websites, books, blogs, tutorials, etc. There are also great web-based courses ( that often have free trials.

The program can be downloaded here:

Many recommend also using R Studio, a platform to help organize workflow when using R. The free version of R-Studio is what I use, and I’m fairly sure it has all that most of the folks in music education would likely every need.

More to the point… …R Studio has an integrated web app builder called “shiny“. Shiny makes building data visualization tools and web-based dashboards for exploring data fairly straight-forward. The apps that are produced with shiny are built in roughly the same type of code that is used to run analyses and make plots in R in general.

Why R?

Music ed research folks may wonder why use R instead of say, SPSS, or another commercial statistical package? Well, that could probably be a rather lengthy discussion of pros and cons. However, here’s a short list of some simple things that R is nice for:

  • It’s free and open-source with an immense community of users and developers which keeps it well-documented and up-to-date, as well as relevant to the needs of contemporary analysts.
  • The R community is very helpful. You could google almost any kind of problem you may be having and would be likely to find a few forums where people offer solutions.
  • It’s modular such that there is a package or more than a few packages to do any kind of data wrangling or analyses or plotting you’d ever want to do. For example, there was a point when I would toggle back and forth between SPSS, Stata, and Lisrel depending on what sorts of analyses I was doing. Now I can do it all in R.
  • The graphing capabilities are very impressive. It’s fairly easy to get nice-looking, presentation and/or publication ready figures and you can customize any aspect of a graph.
  • Organizing the coding for analyses with code in scripts allows you to create a very clear reproducible record of all of the work you do to arrive at your results in any given project. This saves lots of time in the long run and is good scientific practice in general.




The IU JSOM Music and Mind Lab: A Year in Review

Last year included the first full academic year of Music and Mind Lab meetings and activities at the IU Jacobs School of Music. I thought I’d post a quick note about some of the fun and exciting things we were able to do together as we begin looking forward to another productive year.

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Some quick background (visit the MaML Website)

The lab was overseen last year by co-directors Pete MikszaFrank Diaz (Dept. of Music Education) and Daphne Tan (Dept. of Music Theory). Dr. Tan will be shifting to a role of “collaborator” this year as she transitions to a new position at the University of Toronto – she will be sorely missed! The student lab members include undergraduates and graduate students from a variety of disciplines and academic specializations: music education, music theory, musicology, music performance, cognitive science, psychological and brain sciences, and telecommunications. Our goal is to produce original research that will contribute to a general understanding of the role of music in the human condition.

Recent events

Guest speakers and presentations featured heavily in our activities this past year along with sessions devoted to faculty and students’ research interests. We were fortunate to have some truly brilliant people join us and share their research. Last year’s special topics and guests included the following:

  • Musical improvisation as a way of knowing
    • Andrew Goldman, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University
  • Working as a lab in the cognitive humanities
    • Fritz Breithaupt, Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Rhythm and movement
    • Justin London, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music, Cognitive Science, and the Humanities, Carleton College
  • Music, empathy, and cultural understanding
    • Eric Clarke, Heather Professor of Music; Professorial Fellow, Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK
  • Music, trauma, and the Polyvagal Theory
    • Jacek Kolack, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • The neuroscience of musical skill learning
    • Anna Kalinovsky, Assistant Research Scientist, Gill Center for Bimolecular Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
    • Grigory Kalinovsky, Professor of Music (Violin), Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington

Ongoing projects

Although just getting started, our lab group has been quite productive in generating projects with interdisciplinary connections throughout IU and completing research that has found its way into the world as conference presentations and journal articles. Our most recent project involves a collaboration between Drs. Tan, Diaz, and I on the topic of musical communication. We are investigating the nature of expressive vocal performance. Broadly speaking, we are studying the ways singers prepare and produce performances to be evocative of specific emotive intentions. We are also interested in how inducing a mindful state will impact their singing and, ultimately, how these performances will be received by listeners. We’ve collected a good deal of data and are excited about the potential for this project going forward.

How students are involved

Students can participate as investigators or contributors. Investigators typically come to the lab with some prior experience in empirical research and are expected to co-design, propose, and lead projects. Contributors primarily serve support roles. They are expected to participate in weekly meetings and discussions, and help to manage projects and collect data. Through their participation, contributors can gain the experience necessary to be investigators in future projects.


All in all, I’m happy to say the Music and Mind Lab provides an exciting intellectual space for those at Indiana University who are curious about intersections between their musical and scientific interests. I’m hopeful that this group will continue to grow and look forward to a productive ’17-’18 school year!

Take some time to learn about the Jacobs School of Music if you’re interested in joining us.

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Music Education: Snowballs, ice sculptures, and ice sculptures of snowballs

This a playful metaphorical reflection on what seem to be fairly periodic fluctuations in my thoughts on what it means to be building a career in academia as I’ve moved from being a graduate student to someone about to apply for tenure.

Maybe sometime you feel similarly about what you do?