Music and Maths

Music and Maths

For thousands of years people have tried to use Maths to describe and understand music.

Harmony and Strings

The ancient Greeks found that some sounds fitted together well and that others did not. The Greek word Harmony, literally means to fit well together. So harmonious sounds are sounds that fit well together.

They found that changing the length of a plucked string affected the pitch of the resulting sound. Two strings of exactly the same length produced the same pitch, and a string half the length created the same note but an octave higher.

By doing many calculations the Greeks worked out the first pitch scales, with a system of rules for notes that would work well together and those that they felt did not.

Understanding Sounds and Understanding the Universe

The Greeks used maths to try and explain the relationships of sounds to one another because they believed that this would help them to understand the universe. In the middle ages people  described the relationship between planets as ‘The Music of the Spheres’.

In the early 20th Century composers decided to apply similar rules to all musical parameters: time, duration and pitch. Using these mathematical rules all sounds could be equal. The music that they created was called Serial music.

A modern Greek called Iannis Xenakis used maths to create beautiful parabolic curves, these were then translated into both architecture and music.

Xenakis used these patterns to create sweeping sound masses.


The crisp snack “Pringles” have an interesting shape. These are parabolic curves.