Musical Maths

Music and Maths – two subjects you rarely think of as being connected with each other. One deals with numbers, the other with sounds. Well, actually, they identify with each other more than you think.

“Rhythm depends on arithmetic, harmony draws from basic numerical relationships, and the development of musical themes reflects the world of symmetry and geometry.  As Stravinsky once said: “The musician should find in mathematics a study as useful to him as the learning of another language is to a poet.  Mathematics swims seductively just below the surface.”

– Marcus du Sautoy (2011)

So, maths is related to the rhythm of the music. Not only this but it is related to the beats in a bar, the chords, the tuning of the instruments and the scales. Specifically when tuning the instruments, we use frequency which is a mathematical term. Without the use of this, the instruments would not be able to be successfully tuned and we would be listening to some awful, awful music.

Personally, I use rhythm and the beat of a music a lot in dancing as I dance very regularly. We count in sets of 8 and generally choreograph a dance and speak of the dance in terms of sets of 8. For example, “We’ve learned four sets of 8 and only have another two sets until we reach the chorus”. Most, if not all, songs work in sets of 8, which repeat themselves over and over until the songs finish. This, fundamentally, is repetition which is an area of maths. Now every set of 8 is not the same pitch wise –  it varies, which links in with variation. Now because I know a lot more about dance than I do about music and its instruments, I’m going to focus more on this.

Again, society would probably argue against any correlation between a tango for instance and a higher maths topic, however it is not the specific topics in maths but the fundamental concept which is important in the world of dance. –

“Mathematics is present in dance. It is not the mathematics of simple number manipulation; we do not attempt to add or integrate through movement, instead we would like to employ abstract mathematics and various methods of analysis to understand dance at a deeper level.” –

If we move on from the aspects of music in dance we find ourselves in the types of dances. Of these, there are hundreds, but probably the most mathematically equipped are line dancing, Scottish dancing, and even hip hop. I am going to try and bring to light the fundamental maths which lies within dance.

Line dancing (although I am not an expert), tends to be done in lines, with very abrupt changes perhaps turning 90 degrees or 180 degrees, perhaps moving in a square or rectangular fashion. This obviously associates with shape and angles which you must be aware of whilst dancing this type of dance.

As for Scottish dancing, in most dances, especially with a partner, you are mirroring exactly what your partner is doing – my personal favourite is the Canadian Barn Dance. As you are mirroring what your partner is doing, you are in fact practising symmetry, which of course is a mathematical concept.

Lastly, some hip hop moves are extremely technical, with precise movements of the limbs, head and body to create different shapes. Hip hop is also one of the hardest types of dance to master as you have to work intricately with the beat of the music, sometimes dancing off beat. Now in order to do this you must have a strong understanding and concept of the beat in music, which relates to simply being able to count in your head and hold this count in your head (harder than it looks may I add!).

Lots of extra points on the matter here.

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