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Connections between Math

and Music
Laura Harlow HSPVA
Rhodora Maligad Austin HS

A village without music is a

dead place.
African proverb

Our Goal
To understand some of the mathematics
found in music
To make mathematical functions and
geometric transformations better understood
through music
To be able to differentiate the curriculum for
the auditory learners and/or the musicallyinclined.

Historical Connections
Obvious Connections
Functional Connections
Geometric Connections

Connections between the two

disciplines have been studied since
ancient times.
Pythagoras (580 BC)
Plato (424 347 BC) elaborated on
music of the spheres
Archytas (estimated 430-350) On Music
Nicomachus (100 AD) Introduction to Music
Ptolemy (100-165 AD) Harmonics

More Historical Connections

Boethius (500 AD) Principles of Music
Kepler (1571 1630 AD) refined
music of the spheres
Galileo (1600) some combinations of tones are
more pleasing than others
Euler (1707 - 1785) A New Theory of Music
Bernoulli (1700 1782) extended Eulers work

Pythagorean music
Identified music with numbers
Music was defined and restricted by the math that
dictated its theory
Pythagoras used only whole number ratios of
string length and the frequencies of notes
If you divide an octave into 12 equal parts, we get
the irrational number 2 1/12

Pythagorean music
Proved the existence of irrational numbers but
chose to ignore numbers that could not be written
as a fraction
The omission of irrational numbers resulted in
scale known as a minor scale
Speculations arise about the effect on Greek play
(tragedies) since the music is much more sinister

Cultural Differences
Cultures have developed their music in various ways,
among them differences in the ways they divided an
octave into notes.
Western music uses a pattern of 5 - 7 notes in a scale.
African cultures also use 7 notes with the 3rd and 7th
notes slightly flattened, these are now known as blue
Most Asian music uses a pattern of 12 notes in a

The Obvious Connection: Rhythm

Rhythm is the basis upon which music is built
just as the concept of number is the basis of

Measures of Time
Time signature is a fraction whose numerator tells us
how many beats make up a measure and whose
denominator tells what note is assigned to that beat.

GCD in Music
The concept of Greatest Common Denominator
and Addition of Fractions can be used to
determine if a musician is working within the
given time signature or rhythm.

Note Combinations That Work

note + note + note = 4/4 = 1
note + note + 1/8 note + 1/8 note = 8/8 =1

Note Combinations That DONT WORK

note + note = < 1
note + note + note + note + note = 1 > 1

LCM in Music
The math concept of Least Common Multiple can be
used to determine where the second note will fall in
relation to the three-note rhythmic scale.

What makes music different

than noise?
The answer is in the

We need some definitions

Frequency number of vibrations per second
Pitch a listeners evaluation of frequency
Tone a sound that lasts long enough and is
steady enough to have pitch, quality and
Octave same note (tone), frequency doubled
Scale The pattern used to travel an octave.

Some other interesting definitions

used in music:
Amplitude distance between max and min
Wavelength distance traveled in a cycle
Period time to complete a wavelength
Loudness listeners evaluation of amplitude
Pure tone constant frequency and amplitude
(creates the sine wave)

So, what is music and what is noise

Music is an organization of sounds with some
degree of rhythm, melody, and harmony
Music is said to be an art and often defined by
contrast with noise
Noise is a mixture of different frequencies
White noise equal amounts of sound power from
each spectrum of available frequencies

Functional Connections
y = f(x)
y = f(x) + 2
y = 2 f(x)
y = -f(x)
y = 2 f(x) + 4

Composers use math in

subtle ways to create
musical compositions
that are pleasing to hear.

Geometric Connections
Many geometric transformations have musical



horizontal translation


horizontal and vertical


Many geometric transformations

have musical counterpart



vertical reflection


horizontal reflection

retrograde inversion

180 rotation

Some Miscellaneous Information

Golden proportion
Fractal music
More child prodigies in math and music than any
other disciplines
Music and math do not require much experience
and interpretation on manipulation of symbols is
Mozarts Melody Dice Use 2 6 sided dice rolled
to determine what was played in each of 16 bars of
music to create a waltz

That person is a musician,

who, through careful rational
contemplation, has gained
the knowledge of making
music, not through the
slavery of labor, but through
the sovereignty of reason.
Boethius (A.D. 480)

Garland, Trudi Hammel and Kahn, Charity Vaughan. Math and Music: Harmonious
Connections. Palo Alto: Dale Seymour Pulbications, 1995.
Beall, Scott. Functional Melodies. Key Curriculum Press, 2000.
Peterson, Ivars. Circles of Dissonance" MAA Online. November 24, 1997. June
15, 2005 <http://www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_11_24.html>.
Peterson, Ivars. Medieval Harmony" MAA Online. 1999. June 15, 2005
Mathematics and Music. Rusin, David.2004. June 15, 2005. <http://