Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)

Author: Joseph Iafrate

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Scott Barolo, and Bryan Moyers

*Editor’s Note: This post has several sound files to help readers understand the author’s message better. These sound files can be accessed via bolded links.

Part one of this post explained how physics gave us a new language for talking about musical notes. In part two, we look at combinations of notes. Will two notes sound pleasant together, or will they clash? We can apply what we’ve learned about frequencies to get an answer.

The Harmony of Ratios

If you’ve ever used the Pythagorean theorem, you are well-acquainted with one of Pythagoras’ contributions to society. Pythagoras was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician dedicated to discovering mathematical principles in the world around him. During his time, the Greeks already had an idea of which notes sounded good together, a pleasant combination of two or more notes that we call a harmony. Pythagoras and his followers could identify harmony by ear, but they wanted to see if the math that permeated the rest of their worldview had anything to say about this phenomenon.

According to legend, they took two taut strings of different lengths and plucked them at the same time. The sounds seemed to clash with one another. So the Pythagoreans increased the length of one of the strings and tried again. It was a bit better, but the notes still seemed to clash in their ears. So they increased the length again. This kept going until the sounds complemented one another. Eventually they got it just right, and the two notes were in harmony.

Continue reading “Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)”

Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 1)

Author: Joseph Iafrate

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Scott Barolo, and Bryan Moyers

*Editor’s Note: This post has several sound files to help readers understand the author’s message better. These sound files can be accessed via bolded links. 

At my elementary school, entering the fifth grade meant we could finally join the school band, and for most of us, that was a big deal. I had been set on playing the clarinet for ages, so I was ready and raring to immediately dive into “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

But before we could do that, we had to learn how to name the building blocks of those songs and the sounds we were making: the musical notes. Our learner books instructed us to orient our fingers in a certain way and call the sound that came out a “G.” Western music labels its tones with the letters A through G. There are also modified notes (sharp and flat) such that we reach twelve total note names.

Continue reading “Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 1)”

P-values, or: infinite shades of grey

Author: Peter Orchard

Editors: Theresa Mau, Bryan Moyers, Alisha John

 

Peter Tea_and_MilkAlmost 100 years ago, the English biologist and statistician Dr. Ronald Fisher was enjoying a cup of tea with his Cambridge University colleagues when another biologist, Dr. Muriel Bristol, made an interesting claim. Bristol asserted that just by tasting her tea, she could infer whether the tea was poured into the cup before the milk, or the milk before the tea.

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Science behind-the-scenes: Which fields are “real sciences”?

Author: Bryan Moyers

Content Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Molly Kozminsky

Senior Editor: Alisha John

 

 

Well, that field isn’t really science.”

Oh, that’s just a soft science.”

Most people who work in the sciences have probably heard phrases like these.  Translation: that field is lesser.  The physicists say it about everyone lower than them in the pecking order, as do the chemists, biologists, and so on down the line.  The nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford famously said, “All science is either physics or stamp-collecting.”  People argue about this at scientific conferences and in the media.   The science and pop-culture webcomic xkcd has even parodied the issue.

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Terrified by math? Don’t pass it on.

By Kimberly A. Brink

For some, math is a terrifying ordeal. Fractions provoke anxiety. Splitting the bill with friends is a stressful affair. And don’t even ask what the tax will be on that discounted shirt. I had a friend who found math so anxiety-inducing that the night before every math exam she developed what she affectionately called her “math rash”. If this sounds familiar (excluding perhaps the rash), you might have what it is known as math anxiety. Math anxiety is the feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear at the prospect of doing math. What’s more, if you’re a parent, you could be at risk of passing it on to your kids.

Continue reading “Terrified by math? Don’t pass it on.”