Rhythm is all about math!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Daniel Levitin and Vinod Menon—two neuroscientists respectively from McGill and Stanford—analyzed 2,000 musical compositions written over the last 400 years. They concluded that the rhythmic patterns of each piece of music are governed by mathematical formulas. This notion already applied to the distribution of pitches and loudness and it is therefore no real surprise that rhythm too answers to mathematics. Their findings were published in PNAS.

All the studied musical compositions have the same «fractal» quality, where the part repeats the whole. Such fractal patterns were already observed in nature, for snowflakes for example, and it seems that composers have unconsciously made use of regularities of the physical world. In this way, each composer has his or her own rhythmic signature.

According to the researchers, our sensory and motor systems may perceive and produce such patterns across the three dimensions and across time. You can read more about this research here.

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