Sunday, October 23, 2016

TOK IRL #1: Math and Music

Music Theory
Throughout the entire lesson on math as an Area Of Knowledge, the topic that I was the most intrigued by was how math is found in music. Of course I could point out the basic way math is seen in music, such as the time signatures used to help keep time while playing, but when I was asked why some notes sound good together and others do not, I hesitated.

My first attempt at answering this question was that it had to do with the sound waves and whether they combined or clashed when they hit each other, and after some research I discovered I was not too far off. The sound that two different notes create when they hit each other has to do with the frequency, which is how many times the waves hit our ears per second, and the pitch, which is either high or low depending on the number of waves that hit per second. The defining factor on whether or not the pitch sounds pleasing is how often the frequencies match up. For two notes that do not go together, or are dissonant, the frequencies almost never meet up, so they clash. However, for two notes that sound good together, or are consonant, the frequencies match up together at regular intervals, such as how the second wave of middle C always matches with the third wave of the G above it. It works the same way with chords, but every note must match up at certain intervals. In reality the intervals between different pitches are not all perfect intervals as they appear to be. They are actually slightly off, but because people wanted to make it easier and have equal sized intervals, they compromised by creating the scales we know today.

In literature, we have been talking about Western thought and how people have grown to see it as the only way, when in fact there are multiple different ways to look at ideas. Sadly, this is something that all people do and I made the mistake of doing it as well. I had always held the believe that music was universal, especially scales which seem to be the most fundamental part of music, but that is not true. For Western music theory, there are six types of scales: Diatonic with seven notes, Melodic and Harmonic Minor with seven notes, Chromatic with twelve notes, Whole Tone with five notes, and Octatonic or Diminished with eight notes. It seems almost impossible to imagine that there are more ways to write scales, but Eastern musicians did.

In Eastern music there are other scales known as Phrygian dominant scales, Arabic scales, Hungarian scales, Byzantine music scales, and Persian scales. Each of these uses the basic knowledge of frequency and pitch to place notes into different orders. This determines some differences in the way traditional western music sounds compared to traditional eastern music.

After realizing this, it makes sense to me, but at first I was shocked. Music is something that all people share and I always imagined that it was the same fundamental type of music, but that is not accurate. Music theory is different across the globe.

This is all high level music theory and is difficult for even me to understand. This brings me to another topic that was mentioned in class: math and beauty. The way beauty can be measured by numbers leaves me feeling very unsettled, because for me music is one of the most beautiful things. I find it hard to think about music theory, because I feel like I am tearing away the mysterious layers of the beauty of music one by one. Music is no longer emotion, it is a string of numbers that create beauty. If music is nothing but numbers, why does it make me feel so much emotion?