Academic Training Lecture Regular Programme

The Physics of Music from Pythagoras to Microtones (3/3)

by Giuseppe Lo Presti (CERN), Isabella Masina (Universita e INFN, Ferrara (IT))

222/R-001 (CERN)



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What are the physical foundations of Western music? Why are there 12 notes in an octave? Why is the Equal Temperament so successful? What is the role of microtones in music composition? In this lecture series we will try to answer these and many other questions, that might have come to the mind of scientists playing an instrument from amateur to semi-professional level.
In the first lecture, starting from the case study of the vibrating string, we first review harmonic sounds and timbre in the context of signal theory.
We then introduce the psychoacoustic notions of “roughness”, critical bandwidth and discrimination limen.
The sensations of consonance and dissonance for dyads are introduced by means of demonstrations and tests, including the monochord and software simulations.
The second lecture is devoted to the physical theories trying to justify the Western music dyad’s rankings for consonance and dissonance.
Starting from ancient Greece and following the historical path, we review the “compactness” and “roughness” theories, whose pioneers have been respectively Galilei and Helmholtz. The extension to triads is also detailed, in relation to the concept of tonality.
In the third lecture, we review the properties of the different scales that have been proposed over time. We discuss the Pythagorean scale, the just intonation scale and the various temperaments, from the mesotonic to the equal one. We introduce microtones and the 24-Tone Equal Temperament. Demonstration will be given for chords in the different temperaments and for microtonal chords.
At the end of the series, the scientist-musician will acquire a deeper awareness of the art of playing and composing music.

From the same series
1 2
Organized by

Maria Arsuaga Rios