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Picardy Third (wikipedia.org)
119 points by tintinnabula on Jan 28, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

Tangent: Why does Wikipedia use a sound plug-in that doesn't tell you how long the sound clip is, nor allow you to drag a slider to move through the sound clip? This sort of decrepit UI (and the community's willingness to deal with it in perpetuity) gives open-source software a bad name.

And just look at the hideous stuff that pops up when you click "menu". It's an embarrassment.

There's information about how to configure the audio players, including displaying sliders, on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Sound_file_markup

It appears the sliders display if the widget is wider than some minimum. It's not clear if the behaviour changes between browsers, etc.

Perhaps there's an opportunity to change the default display style system-wide. However, I suspect sliders are one of those things that are context-dependent. Luckily, the pages are editable by anyone and the slider can be displayed on pages where it makes sense.

Thanks for pointing this out!

There's really no such thing as "the community's willingness to deal with it." You're dealing with it, because you're not fixing it. I'm dealing with it, because I'm not fixing it. And that is true of every other individual, until one individual fixes it.

I do think there is such a thing as "the community's willingness to deal with it", and that rather than my statement being meaningless/confused, your objection is really a normative claim about who should be able to complain. But if it helps you understand, you can reinterpret my comment as:

(1) All the effort people put into collecting copyright-free sound files is drastically undermined by the lack of nice plug-ins; and

(2) The Wikimedia foundation, which collects huge amounts of money from unsophisticated donors, is negligent in spending that money on ridiculous projects that help only a small number of particular types of nerds while leaving things like this that could actually help the typical donor broken.

In other words, when I donate money to the Wikimedia foundation and they don't fix easy stuff like this, I am justified in complaining.

Good point on the budget.

But even if you submitted a "fix" to the foundation, somehow I imagine that it wouldn't be adopted, for reasons.

No, you certainly are not. You're donating money, not employing them. They get to choose what to do with the money, not you.

If you don't like it, stop donating. Or better yet, write a patch, or email them suggestion for a better player. I agree with your original point, but you lost me with this second post.

Non-profits absolutely have duties to their donors when they accept money. They don't get to spend it on whatever they want. And those duties are especially strong when they take money for a technical job from non-technically-sophisticated donors.

Finally, those duties are even stronger when the non-profit is the steward of a non-replaceable community commons; there is no way to donate to a Wikimedia Foundation competitor to improve Wikipedia.

> If you don't like it, stop donating

Think about what you're saying. People can't complain unless they donate, but if they don't like what's happening they should not donate. That sort of reasoning is how you get non-accountable dysfunctional non-profits.

> Or better yet, write a patch, or email them suggestion for a better player.

I can't write a patch. It's not in my abilities.

Write them an email? That isn't a serious suggestion, because you know it would accomplish nothing. That's not where these conversations take place.

> I can't write a patch. It's not in my abilities.

> Write them an email? That isn't a serious suggestion, because you know it would accomplish nothing. That's not where these conversations take place.

It sounds like you arent really interested in seeing this fixed.

Sometimes, when you want something fixed, merely complaining or commenting to the right person will get it resolved. Sometimes more effort is required. You are right, an email might not get you the result you want.

But have you tried? If you havent even tried an email I dont think you have the right to complain. You havent made even the smallest effort to constructively advocate or try to resolve the issue. Once youve done that, you have a better case.

I don't know why my technical inability to submit patches for audio plugins is evidence I don't really want to see this fixed. I am not a software developer.

There is zero chance that they are unaware of this issue. So the question is, first, what is the best way to communicate dissatisfaction? And I don't think emails directly to the Wikimedia foundation are effective (and I don't think you think that either).

More importantly, I'm claiming that the Wikimedia foundation, and the Wikipedia community, are negligent regardless of what I personally do. It's beyond obvious to anyone who has thought a wink about UX that this stuff is crap. "We haven't gotten enough emails about it to divert resources from Wiki-con-for-Slovokian-teenagers" is not a plausible defense.

> Write them an email? That isn't a serious suggestion, because you know it would accomplish nothing.

If no-one ever complains about it, it will be difficult to prioritize over things people do complain about.

I'm not saying we shouldn't complain about, I'm saying this particular method (an email directly to the Wikimedia foundation) is not the correct method. More importantly, the email suggestion was not a serious one by the commenter who made it; it was just an attempt to undermine my complaint.

If you donated the money and specified your donation was only to fix the player on the web site and they accepted it, then yes, you have say in how they spend it. You don't have a lot of leverage if they don't spend it on that but you could possibly sue them.

If you donated the money without telling them what they have to spend it on, they can spend it on anything they want.

Good luck finding a lawyer to represent you in this law suit and good luck spending many times your original donation on said lawyer all because you don't like the look of the audio player on the web site.

I was making a moral argument, not a legal one.

See, this is the problem with communism; without incentives, people just do whatever they feel like. And what they feel like might not be valuable.

If Wikipedia had revenue-generating potential for companies, it might be a better resource. As it is, it's turned into a money-generating resource for people who freeload off the goodwill.

(I donated to Wikipedia once; never again.)

How drunk are you to compare Wikipedia to communism???

Btw, the value of the content of a company-based Wikipedia will be none, because noone will trust 'em.

> Think about what you're saying. People can't complain unless they donate, but if they don't like what's happening they should not donate.

I don't think anyone is saying that. You're absolutely free to complain, and we're absolutely free to point out the lack of value of your complaints. That's all that's happening here.

Making any kind of change in wikipedia is near impossible. There are so many entrenched people with huge egos that, effectively, no change is possible by an outsider.

If you try to make the media player more friendly, you will be given 1000 reasons why it shouldn't be done, such as "It looks fine to me", "People are used to this media player and won't like it to change", "Just go to this page and follow instructions to customize it, anyone can do that", etc.

Open-source changes from outside the core contributors are notoriously hard to get approved. There is usually politics in play. For instance, why is there not an easy way to copy a link to subsections?

The easy workaround is just to create a WebExtension. If enough people use it, then maybe the core team will take the hint..


Social dynamics of open source were already discussed, maybe few more words on technical side.

Most (all?) examples on that article are in MIDI format, which is not a trivial sound clip. The MIDI file doesn't contain any actual sound, just 'meta' information on which insturment is used, which notes are being played, dynamics of each note and so on. The rendering of this data into actual sound is left to MIDI player.

Usually the player will have support for 'soundfont', which is the other ingredient needed. It is a bundle of few hundered of instrument samples. To produce music, those samples need to be pitch-shifted, amplified and reverbed using the information from MIDI, and mixed together. The collection of instrument samples requires much work to make it sound well in various contexts. There are precious few open ones and others are burdened with copyright.

The action of 'seeking' through MIDI file is non-trivial because music state/context is collected from events (just as OpenGL is sometimes called a state machine). So to play the last bar of music you always have to fast-forward from start.

MIDI as a standard is considered a bit obsolete, but doesn't yet have the replacement that covers all its different uses (synchronizing and controlling musical equipment, reprograming equipment's presets, capturing musical notation, reproducing music file or from input stream). In 90s the MIDI on web reached its peak because of small file sizes and hardware-accelerated support on sound cards. Since then it is in decline and its future is uncertain.

Being able to just click and hear these music samples on wikipedia, without installing browser plug-ins or hunting for players/soundfonts? Don't take it for granted.

Funnily enough, the Macbook Pro touch bar displays a slider and allows you to seek.

But anyway, I agree. It's a shame. Thousands (or millions) of people have probably had the thought "Why does this player work so badly? Oh, it's some weird open source thing. Why don't they just use a normal player like other sites?"

> Why don't they just use a normal player like other sites?"

Makes me think that it's really really hard to come up with a example of a website that is not in general audio focused, and has embedded a audio player for some parts, and the whole thing is well executed and the audio player does not have any problem. There is always something.

That's funny, Wikipedias sound plug-in has always been in the "just works" category for me without the enormous amounts overhead of other options layered deep in JavaScript.

Agreed. It's even fully functional on my 3-versions-out-of-date old iPad.

It's also no longer needed: The audio, source tags provide a perfectly adequate player with a download link.

You can get all of that going to the page for the file.


It's Wikipedia. You're free to improve it. <3

My wife and I are both musicians. Playing a Picardy third is a quick way for me to get asked to sleep on the couch (only exaggerating slightly).

I love using a Picardy third when accompanying sung music and the text demands/suggests it. An open fifth is also a good tool for emphasizing certain texts. Just like other strong effects (deceptive cadences, modulations...) it's best effective when used sparingly.

In my youth I was "volunteered" to play piano accompaniment at church. There was probably more respectful way to get out of it, but closing minor-key hymns w/ a Picardy third, and major-key hymns w/ major or minor seventh (depending on mood), got me removed.

I hope you joined the school jazz band

Next time you're feeling mischievous, try an "anti-Picardy third": end a major key piece (e.g. Pachelbel's Canon, US National Anthem, Silent Night, Happy Birthday...) with a minor chord.

When I was a kid I enjoyed annoying my parents by transposing random major-key songs into minor. I used to love doing this to "Joy to the World," among others, only to find later that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society had the same idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptP0OR-e7rI.

My favorite version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is in a major key: https://youtu.be/dVehv_LDWaE

There's a genre just starting where people electronically modify old recordings to change key. John Denver's Country Roads actually makes more sense in a minor key, to me at least:


Try using software to switch the mode of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Modes that should be "happier" in music theory end up sounding even sadder.

Schubert’s ErlKoenig in major is amazing!

Scientifically proven: Once every three gigs, and no more than once per every five performances of any given song across gigs. (For small jazz combos; St James infirmary is a pretty common one to get the treatment).

Don't forget the Jingle Bells Ending.

This video has some good examples from popular music:


This is a very good channel if you're looking for explanation of topics within music theory with examples from popular music. I've found David's videos explaining key changes, time signature shifts, and modes very helpful.

+1 to David's channel. You don't even need to know theory to enjoy his videos.

My music knowledge is limited to building major and minor triads (maybe adding a seventh here and there) and I still enjoy his videos.

I sometimes help my children with their piano practice when they're learning hands separately by doing the other hand, and I find it almost impossible to resist adding a Picardy third at the poignant ending of any piece in a minor key... much to their amusement/annoyance.

I always did react to the Picardy third with a bit of an eye roll, as one does to dad jokes, so you're onto something there.

The other favourite, of which I never seem to tire, is a quick "shave and a haircut, two bits" over the dying notes...

I remember my teacher doing the opposite when we were singing too slow or soft; he would randomly start accompanying in minor or just switch to minor in the last bar.

It's like the opposite of a "millennial whoop", major-izing a minor chord instead of emphasizing the minor interval in a major chord, only more drastic because of the key change.

You are confusing the interval from the previous note and the interval from the root. The millennial whoop might be a minor third, but that in no way makes the chord more minor. And I think plenty of non-musical people would characterize the "millennial whoop" as annoyingly upbeat, most the time, so claiming it is unlike the Picardy third for that reason isn't putting theory ahead of empiricism.

"Mode mixture" where the minor 4 chord is "borrowed" in a major context however is basically stealing the picardy third sound for an otherwise major piece. "American Boy" would be a pop song that uses this very well.

For anyone else wondering, this is the "millennial whoop":


(the first 3-5 seconds let you know right away)

Yikes. Not sure how much of that video is nearly-naked woman, but the split-second I had it up at work didn't make me a fan.

perhaps a NSFW tag?

It’s only the first second of Katy Perry at the start of the video. This link should skip over that bit:


Thx for the update. I only had it up for a split-second and shut it right down.

It's just common pop music videos, as far as I could see. It doesn't strike me as particularly NSFW, any more than any other music video. It's not soft core porn or something.

I found it by searching for millennial whoop, and thought I'd save anyone else a search.

I just realized you can do a Picardy third with a millennial whoop over it!

[joker voice] I have given a name to my pain...and it is millennial whoop.

Seriously, though - this is interesting and I'm glad I know have an additional, identifiable reason why modern pop sucks so bad.

I saw one of the YT commenters said they call it the millennial yodel instead. I think I like that better.

> I'm glad I know have an additional, identifiable reason why modern pop sucks so bad.

Music is subjective and popular music is always aimed at teenagers. You're always going to think the pop music you liked when you were 17 was the best pop music ever.

Indeed. There’s somewhat of a selection bias here, too. The older the song, the longer we’ve had to filter it out from other songs. Meanwhile, the blurriness of “modern” in “modern music” means that any comparison will be naturally biased. The mediocre songs of yesteryears are forgotten – but the mediocre songs of today are still gonna appear on the radio.

You're referring to survivorship bias and yes, that's a factor. But while there was a fair amount of garbage topping the charts when I was a teenager, there was also a fair bit of great songs as well. For a variety of reasons, the selection process of what becomes a chart-topping "hit" has changed, and I think that is part of the problem. The biggest factor is that the business side of the industry has virtually perfected cramming what they want into our ears until we like it - or at least until they make money off it. In the past, society as a whole mostly selected the winners through tuning into radio stations, buying albums, etc. The nature of the business has changed dramatically over the decades where now people just pay for streaming services which for all but a few artists never come close to replacing the income they would have had via the older methods. The industry execs have also gotten really great at manufacturing pop hits through people like Max Martin (and the other guy who's just like him) who crank out similar/familiar songs with the same structure over and over so people like it because it feels like they already know it and it's so close to something else they already "approve" of in their brain. It's the music industry equivalent of how social media hijacks your dopamine system.

To me, if a singer is going to sing a lot of non-word syllables, I want them to have earned it first. It makes sense to cry out with gibberish of joy if the song actually went somewhere that such exclamations make sense. If not, I'm like, "Why are you celebrating?" It feels lazy.

I don't see the whoop that way. More generally, the whoop is just noodling around a major triad. Its sound never leaves major tonality.

C.f. on the other hand blues music, which often digs into the flattened third degree of a major scale to make it a bit more, well, bluesy.

I'd like to know more, what's a millenial whoop?

Don't raise that third. Hold it there in the final chord and let it ring.

As you do, say this:

"He's a silent guardian. A watchful protector."

Now shift the chord down by thirds (tonally) to play a lushly spaced, unexpected major triad.

Then say this:

"A Dark Knight."

And finally, play the chord again loudly.

In contemporary music, I'm very fond of a somewhat similar device that Krzysztof Penderecki used at the ending of "Stabat Mater":


Two of my closest friends (who are much better musicians than me) and I get together occasionally to jam. It's become a running inside joke at this point that invariably someone will end the jam with a Picardy third. It's so saccharine and absurd sounding. I love it.

It reminds me of the deus ex machina from theater[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina

A Picardy third can be heard at the end of Avengers Infinity War as Thanos watches the sun rise on a grateful universe.

I always enjoy the rare moments when Bach doesn't use a Picardy third. Only a few of the minor-key pieces in the Well-Tempered Clavier, for instance, end with a minor chord. Personally, I wish Bach had mostly avoided it except in a religious context (I think it sounds best with a choir or an organ).

The Wikipedia article claims that in Book II a decent number of the minor-key pieces end with a minor triad, a departure from only a small minority of them ending that way in Book I.

Pretty shifty counterpoint in that example =)

TIL no one knows why it is called a Picardy Third.

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