Mathematics and Music

Mathematics and music are both lifelong passions for me. For years they appeared to be independent non-intersecting interests; one did not lead me to the other, and there seemed to be no obvious use of one discipline in the application of the other. Over the years, however, I slowly came to understand that there is, at the very least, a positive, supportive coexistence between mathematics and music in my own thought processes, and that in some subtle way, I was appealing to skills and instincts endemic to one subject when actively engaged with the other. In this way the relationship between mathematical reasoning and musical creativity, and the way humans grasp and appreciate both subjects, became a matter of interest that eventually resulted in a college course called Mathematics and Music, first offered in the spring of 2002 at Washington University in St. Louis, the notes of which have evolved into this book.

It has been observed that mathematics is the most abstract of the sciences, music the most abstract of the arts. Mathematics attempts to understand conceptual and logical truth and appreciates the intrinsic beauty of such. Music evokes mood and emotion by the audio medium of tones and rhythms without appealing to circumstantial means of eliciting such innate human reactions. Therefore it is not surprising that the symbiosis of the two disciplines is an age old story. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras noted the integral relationships between frequencies of musical tones in a consonant interval; the 18th century musician J. S. Bach studied the mathematical problem of finding a practical way to tune keyboard instruments. In today’s world it is not at all unusual to encounter individuals who have at east some interest in both subjects.