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It has often been said that maths and music go hand in hand. Being a musician and a mathematician myself, I have always found this idea interesting but have never quite understood the link. When writing an enrichment session on the maths of music, I came across some interesting findings.

Did you know, for example, that:

  • the frequencies of musical notes follow a geometric sequence.
  • ancient Indian rhythmical poets developed the Fibonacci sequence from understanding the beats used in poetry and music…over 1500 years before Fibonacci was born!
  • you can compose melodies mathematically without any knowledge of music itself.

I always thought about this as the maths of music; using maths as the tool to understand the beauty of melody and song. This was until I read “The Jazz of Physics” by Stephon Alexander. This book highlights the intrinsic links between music and the structure of the universe and totally turned my thinking around. So rather than the maths of music, we can also think about the music of maths. The beautiful patterns and structures that sing to us as mathematicians.  The seemingly impossible coincidences of how elegant and simple complex mathematical arguments can be.

Whichever way around we choose to think of it, one thing is for sure…although music is certainly mathematical, maths is undoubtedly musical too.

by Andrew Birch

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