Issue 67: Music and Maths – Structures

“Each time I’ve learned a little bit more about the inner structures of music, the math of it and the shape of it, my joy in it has increased.” — recording artist Peter Mulvey, in the Nov. 2000 Performing Songwriter

I’ve written about the circle of fifths before: I was introduced to the very basics of the idea when I first started learning to play the piano, probably when I was about 5 or 6 years old. The teacher I had taught me in the old-fashioned way. She played a phrase, I tried to copy her, she would say “No, no, like this” and do it again, and so it went on. The net result was that after four years I still couldn’t read music, but I could play C, G, D, A and E major scales, one octave, hands together in contrary motion. I loved the way that each scale started on the fifth note of the previous one, and the way that the fingers of each hand matched each other perfectly.

It took three years of hard, unrelenting graft by my next teacher before I could read music and play scales in similar motion. This is probably why I am so obsessed with teaching similar motion scales and note reading!

I find the theory of music, and the patterns of intervals, and inverse intervals, and chords and harmonies beautiful and deeply satisfying. The physical experience of playing the piano, with the patterns and shapes I make with my hands and fingers is also a source of great pleasure, part of the whole musical experience.

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