Math and the Piano
Date: 09/27/98 at 13:17:54 From: Questkid Subject: Pianos and math I am doing a school project about math - about how math is important in my life - and I chose my piano. Do you have any ideas on how math is related to that? For example, fingering (but please be specific).
Date: 09/28/98 at 11:23:37 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Pianos and math Hi. I can think of lots of connections between math and music in general. One that jumps out at you when you look at sheet music is the time signature. Another is the tempo, sometimes given as a metronome rate. Note values are fractions (quarter, sixteenth), so a dotted note means multiply the value by 1.5. These things aren't very complicated, but they are right out there in front. A little less visible but even more important is the matter of pitch. A pitch is created by a vibration. In the case of your piano, middle A vibrates a string 440 times a second. Physicists call this a frequency of 440 hertz, or 440 cycles per second. If you go up an octave, you double the frequency. Other intervals are other ratios. Going up a fifth (from A to E) multiplies the frequency by 3/2, so E is (about) 660 hertz. The Greeks discovered that two strings played together sounded pleasant if the lengths of the strings were in ratios of small whole numbers: 2:1 (octave), 3:2 (fifth), 4:3 (fourth), 5:4 (third). Keyboard instruments like your piano made things more complicated. Each piano key participates in a number of different chords, and it turns out that the key would have to be tuned slightly differently for each chord. Around the time of Bach, there was a lot of debate about this, and it was decided to go with a compromise called "equal tempering" that has each note a little bit off from what it should be, so that each chord will sound okay, though none is perfect. Here's some math. The interval from A to E (a fifth), in equal tempering, isn't exactly 3/2 = 1.5, but 2^(7/12) = 1.4983. (The "^" represents an exponent.) The interval of a fourth isn't 4/3 = 1.3333, but 2^(5/12) = 1.3348. The interval of a third isn't 5/4 = 1.25, but 2^(4/12) = 1.2599. I won't say exactly what equal tempering is, but you might be able to figure it out from what I said, depending on your math level. Equal tempering is related to a "logarithmic scale." You can look that up. Dave Rusin's Mathematical Atlas website makes other connections between music and math: http://www.math.niu.edu/~rusin/uses-math/music/ Jim Campbell's page on "The Equal Tempered Scale and Some Peculiarities of Piano Tuning" goes into great detail about something that you depend on as you play that has a lot of math in it: piano tuning. http://www.izzy.net/~jc/Temper.html I hope these ideas help you. You may not need to know the math behind music, but it is truly important to you. Music sounds good to us because of its mathematical patterns - rhythms and pitches - and math has been used over the years to make music sound better. Math and music belong together. - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Search the Dr. Math Library:
Ask Dr. MathTM
© 1994-2015 The Math Forum