Microsoft Excel spreadsheets are getting use in music, and not just for tracking musicians’ growing credit card debt. First, Tom Whitwell at Music thing discovered an Excel spreadsheet for additive synthesis: drag sliders, and you get real-time Fourier synthesis with both a waveform view and spectrogram. This is more than just a novelty: watching the harmonic content of the wave shape while you listen to the sound is a good way to learn about (or teach) this synthesis method.

Also via Music thing, CDM’s friend Thomas Wilburn has built a a drum set in an Excel spreadsheet. That may sound utterly useless, but the creator has a great twist: audience members with wireless Xbox game pads can play the beats. It gets better: Thomas’ friend Andrew has now hacked the spreadsheet further to make it a full-fledged drum machine with a sequencer. (Thomas previously sent us details of his music making tutorial for ElectroPlankton, the Nintendo DS game; expect more on that as the game hits US shores next month.) Disclaimer: Neither the synth nor the drum pad seems to work on Mac. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Mac gurus.)

Excel doesn’t give you much reason to pitch your drum machines or synths, so is there anything really useful you can do with Excel? Here are some ideas:

  • Databases of music: The Amateur Chamber Music Players have a list of chamber music databases in Excel format, perfect for finding new music and rare chamber pieces.
  • Tracking your music library: A reader on the MacAddict forum has devised a method for converting an iTunes music library to HTML via Excel.
  • Analyzer/calculator for keyboard tunings: Do tunings and temperament make your head spin? Yeah, me, too: if you’re not in 12-tone equal temperament, tuning gets complicated fast. A clever doctoral project resulted in an Excel spreadsheet that does the calculations and analysis for you.

  • Given the range there, this seems like only the beginning for Microsoft’s humble spreadsheet software, especially since there’s a copy of Pocket Excel included with Windows Mobile PDAs and phones. More ideas, anyone?