Playing Math by Shahar Taor - Illustrated by Shahar Taor -
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Playing Math


Artwork: Shahar Taor

  • Joined Apr 2023
  • Published Books 1

Music and Mathematics are two vastly different disciplines that, at first glance, would appear not to share any common ground. Yet mathematics has aided our understanding of music and the patterns within it for countless years.




The mathematician method is a way to learn an instrument that focuses on understanding the mathematics behind the music. It is based on the idea that music is essentially a mathematical construct, and so it can be broken down into its fundamental components in order to be understood.




With this approach, the musician works on understanding the structure of the music, rather than memorizing chords or scales. This allows them to play more creatively and develop their own unique sound. Additionally, it opens up the possibility of using alternate tunings and exploring different genres.



Math is used in music to create time signatures, determine rhythmic patterns and for harmonic analysis. Time signatures are created by dividing a measure of music into equal parts, and rhythmic patterns are created by counting and dividing notes into fractions. Harmonic analysis is used to understand the relationship between notes and chords in a piece of music. Math is also used to create scales, which are used to create melodies and harmonies.



“Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel (1680, but wasn’t published until the early 20th century), which uses a mathematical structure known as a canon. This is a type of musical form in which two or more voices move in the same direction, often with the same melody but at different speeds. The structure of the piece is based on a mathematical sequence, beginning with a single note, then repeating the same melody with each additional note being higher than the last.



The mathematical method of instrument playing was an important part of musical composition during the 1960s and can be seen in many popular songs of the time.

“Interstellar Overdrive” by Pink Floyd – This classic psychedelic rock song from 1967 features a complex and shifting time signature, which was created using a mathematical approach.






The band used the same approach to create many of their other songs, such as “Money” and “Us and Them”(both 1973).



“Let It Be” by the Beatles This classic song was composed using a simple mathematical pattern of two bars of 4/4, followed by two bars of 3/4.



The Rolling Stones are using a number of mathematical methods of playing instruments in “Sympathy for the Devil”.

The Rolling Stones are known for their innovative use of mathematical methods when playing instruments. In this track, the band makes use of polyrhythmic patterns that is, two or more different rhythms played at the same time. This creates an interesting and complex sound that is unique to the band. Additionally, the song features a number of 12bar blues progressions, which involve playing the same chord progression in a specific order over 12 bars. This method of playing is a classic blues technique, but by intricately combining it with polyrhythms, The Rolling Stones are able to create something new and exciting.





Another fun fact, talking about the Devil…


back in the day, the devil was said to exist in a particular musical tone. There was a preference for the “perfect intervals” since music was made for the church. As a result – For centuries, there was a tone called the devil’s interval — or, in Latin, Diabolus in musica. In music theory, it’s called the “tritone” because it’s made of three whole steps (ex. B and F form a tritone in the key of C major)

Songs that use the tritone:

  • Jimi Hendrix — “Purple Haze”
  • David Bowie — “Station to Station” …
  • Marilyn Manson — “The Beautiful People”



A Songwriting Mystery Solved: Math Proves John Lennon Wrote ‘In My Life’

Lennon-McCartney is likely one of the most famous songwriting credits in music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote lyrics and music for almost 200 songs and The Beatles have sold hundreds of millions of albums. The story goes that the two Beatles agreed as teenagers to the joint credit for all songs they wrote, no matter the divide in work.

Over the years, Lennon and McCartney have revealed who really wrote what, but some songs are still up for debate. The two even debate between themselves — their memories seem to differ when it comes to who wrote the music for 1965’s “In My Life.”


Mathematics professor Jason Brown spent 10 years working with statistics to solve the magical mystery. Brown’s the findings were presented on Aug. 1 at the Joint Statistical Meeting in a presentation called “Assessing Authorship of Beatles Songs from Musical Content: Bayesian Classification Modeling from Bags-Of-Words Representations.”

He analyzed the lyrics of the song, as well as the melodic and harmonic structures, and used a mathematical algorithm to determine the probability that each member of the band was the primary songwriter. They found that Lennon was the likely author, with a probability of 0.018, compared to McCartney’s probability of 0.014.


Overall, the article demonstrates how mathematical analysis can be used to shed light on long-standing questions about the authorship of musical works, and highlights the ongoing fascination with The Beatles’ music and legacy.





One last punch-line for this Ebook:


“Mathematical music: where rhythm, melody, and equations harmonize to create a symphony of numbers”


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