Mathematicians Create the Geometrical Music Theory

Mathematicians have long been attempting to apply their skills to the realm of music and it would seem that they finally have gotten it right. Three professors have banded together to devise a new way of analysing and categorizing music. They call their method ‘geometrical music theory’ and it seems that their findings could have a large impact on the future of melody.

The three professors in question are Clifton Callender, who is stationed at Florida State University, Ian Quinn who works at Yale University, and Dmitri Tymoczko who can be found at Princeton University. The trio has taken sequences of notes – such as chords and rhythms, and assigned them a mathematical structure so that they can be represented in geometrical spaces. The various categorizations produce different geometrical spaces, which allow researchers to analyze music in new and exciting ways. According the creators of this method, the system enables them to compare many different kinds of music in a mathematical sense. They hope that their findings will help people to understand music better and enable musicians and others related to the musical field to explore previously undiscovered spheres of music.

But how does this affect us mere mortals? Tymoczko says that the research could be used to create new musical instruments and new visualisation tools to start with. He envisions a future where music can be translated visually at music concerts and where new musical chords can be developed because of a deeper understanding of the mathematics behind the music.

The idea of quantifying music with maths is not a new one. It is thought that Pythagoras discovered that the most pleasing musical intervals then known could be described by using simple rations more than 200 years ago. During the Middle Ages, mathematicians used maths to describe the proportions seen in the movements of the sun, moon and planets. The result to them was beautiful, inaudible but harmonious music known as ‘musica universalis’. Just how useful these latest findings will prove to be to musicians and mankind in general only time will tell. In the meantime, the three professors responsible for the latest quantifications are still working hard to further refine their research.