Mathematics and Music

On Wednesday there’ll be an evening event about Mathematics and Music here at USC. If you are nearby and can make it, consider going along. It’s free! It is part of the Visions and Voices programme I’ve talked about before. The presenter/performer will be Elaine Chew, whose research is at the intersection of engineering and music. Read more about the event here. You can find out more about Professor Chew from her website here.



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8 Responses to Mathematics and Music

  1. Navneeth says:

    A webcast or audio stream would’ve been nice for those who can’t be there in person.

  2. Clifford says:

    Well, it has not happened yet. So I can’t link to such a thing. As I have done for these events before, I try to give a link to such material if it becomes available. So check back.



  3. Doug says:

    To paraphrase Tristan Needham “Visual Complex Anaysis’ –
    to use mathematics without visual aides is like to write music without hearing it played.

  4. max says:

    “to use mathematics without visual aides is like to write music without hearing it played.”

    funnily enough, this is a skill that our forefathers had in abundance: the ability to read written scores and ‘hear’ the music i ntheir imaginations without the need for it to be played. this is apparently a skill that we’ve lost

    currently in the juke box:

    WhiteRoom: papillons
    Radiohead: climbing up the walls
    Beatles: a day in the life

  5. Clifford says:


    I think that some -several- still have this skill. It is not lost.



  6. Mary Cole says:

    Max- the skill of score reading and being able to ‘hear’ the music is certainly not lost but I would say (as a music educator) that it is on the decline, due in part to certain sequencing and scorewriting software packages. I’m not knocking these technologies as they have opened many doors musically, but it has lead to a certain shift in the skills base of many music students.

  7. Amara says:

    An interesting twist on the question of whether ‘hearing’ a written score is on the decline, arises when one considers the Arabic maqam.

    Unlike the Major and Minor modes, where each octave is divided exactly in twelve notes, and where the distance between each note is a half step, the Arabic maqam (plural: maqamat) is built on top of a scale that is generally generally made up of a 24 note octave. Each maqam may include microtonal variations such that tones, half tones and quarter tones in its underlying scale are not precisely that. E.g. the E in maqam Bayati is tuned slightly lower than the E in maqam Rast. These variations must be learned by _listening_ not by reading, which is why the oral tradition is the correct way to learn Arabic music. The tuning of the maqmat are probably historic, based on string instruments, but especially the oud.

    When you listen to the maqam, you might notice that the modes are more complex and richer due to the large variety of specific Oriental tone scales. There are dozens of Arabic maqamat, including many Persian and Turkish hybrids, many local maqamat are used only in some regions of the Arab world, and unknown in others. The maqam are grouped by melodic development, patterns, and relationships between the notes. These rules describe which notes should be emphasized, how often, and in what order.

    The following are some maqamat, that I like, that can give a idea of how these sound. These samples are in RealPlayer format.

    From the Maqam Rast: Here is a Violin (Maqam Rast on C) and an Oud (Maqam Rast on C).
    From the Maqam Kurd, here is an Oud (Maqam Kurd on G), and a Violin (Maqam Kurd on D).
    From the Maqam Rast Yakah, here is a sample piece: Muwashah Mubarqa’ul Jamali.

    I never get tired of listening to this kind of music.

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