Issue 67: Music and Maths: Counting

“Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting”

German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) who co-discovered calculus

from the website

It took me years and years before I could actually count out loud while playing music.Even now, I can only count up to three or four when I am playing. So I have to count 6/8, or 9/8, as repeats of 1 2 3 1 2 3. In the end, I usually end up muttering “der der der der” and keep the pulse that way.

I am currently accompanying a violinist playing a Greek piece in 7/8 time. There is NO WAY I can count to 7! The rhythmic pattern is mostly 1 2 3 1 2 3 4, or 1 2 3 1 2 1 2, and this works reasonably well, except for the ends of phrases where we have a tendency to either chop a quaver or add a quaver to make the timing fit into a more “natural” rhythm or 6/8 or 8/8 (which is the same as 4/4, or “common time”). Tricky.

Once I was at a wedding where the organist clearly did NOT count the beats; every line of the hymn ended with a long note, which he chopped by at least half a beat, so that he always started the next line of the hymn just before we were ready. Maybe it was his dastardly ploy to stop the congregation from dragging.

As a performer, I think that it is my duty to count accurately as I play (except for changes in tempo for expressive purposes) and it is the the souls of the audience which are unaware that they are counting.


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