Pythagoras (569-475 BC), is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of numbers.’ He can also be considered the ‘father of harmony.’ He identified the physics of intervals between notes that form the harmonic system we still use today.
He is reported to have calculated the intervals that will be obtained if you pluck a string while increasing or reducing its length:
- If you reduce the length of a string by a quarter (say by pressing down on the 5th fret on a guitar) you obtain an interval between the note obtained and the note of the open string which is a perfect fourth;
- if you reduce the length of the string by a third (7th fret), you obtain a perfect fifth;
- if you reduce the length by a half (12th fret), the interval is an octave.
Ever wondered why, on a guitar, it is these frets that are marked? Well, now you know. These are the most important intervals in music.
Pythagoras believed that mathematics could explain everything, including music – playing with notes is just playing with audible numbers. Not wishing to argue with one of the greats, I decided to play with numbers myself. I layered harmonies upon a G note to obtain this extended chord:G (root) + B (major 3rd) + D (perfect 5th) + F (minor 7th) + A (major 9th) + C (perfect 11th) + E (major 13th)
I used this as the basis for a repeated background arpeggio and for a primary piano theme. So, here we go, walking with Pythagoras:
In case you’re interested, these are the virtual instruments I used:
Piano: New York Grand from Native Instruments
Bass synth: Substance from Output
Arpeggiated synth: ’25’ from Native Instruments
Drums: Studio Drummer from Native Instruments
Strings: Symphony Series from Native Instruments