Show Details

Math & Music History

July 4, 2013

Compositions from different periods in music history have different mathematical properties.



Music history by the numbers.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The history of Western music can be described mathematically.  This according to University of Buenos Aires computer scientist Pablo Zivic, who worked with computational biologist Guillermo Cecci of IBM Research.  Using a massive database of music written between 1730 and 1930, they found that the major stylistic periods were marked by distinctive patterns of intervals, or the distance in pitch from one note to the next.  For instance, Baroque melodies tend to take small steps of one or two semitones.

PABLO ZIVIC (University of Buenos Aires):

That is a contrastive difference from, for example, the Romantic period, which has a lot of intervals that rely in the three or four semitones.

Which reflects a stronger focus on musical chords.  Zivic says their computations support the general consensus of music theorists and historians.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra in concert. (Derek Gleeson/Wikipedia)