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Music and the Mind


Music and ratios

For those of you who may be interested in the relationship between music and the mind, research has shown that music offers us a wonderful illustration of the rules of mathematics. 

It clearly demonstrates our intimate relationship to sound. It’s interesting to note that when the mathematical rules of music are broken we intuitively know it. An oscilloscope produces a picture of a sound (note). This instrument has helped us to understand the role of ratios in music. Every combination of notes can be defined by simple ratios – when we are listening to something that sounds beautiful to us and moves us the oscilloscope actually translates those sounds into wonderful curves with gentle peaks and troughs, which we can readily observe.


The oscilloscope has allowed us to ‘see’ these ratios and their patterns and what we have learnt from this is that the more complex we make ratios the harsher the sound becomes – and the visual patterns that we observe via the oscilloscope match the sound. In other words, the wave formation has sharp, jagged edges and lacks the elegance and the sweeping curves of a beautiful melody. If it sounds ugly the wave formation and patterns will look ugly too.


Professor Judy Edworthy (Plymouth University) has spent many years investigating the psychological effects of sound. Her work clearly illustrates the relationship between sound and mathematics. She has demonstrated that certain sounds can elevate or disturb us, as our brains decipher their patterns and are thus called into action in a particular way. These actions may be to dance to a song or to respond to a siren or to remove ourselves from a screeching sound, which is literally getting on our nerves. In each case what we hear and are responding to are those ratios – in other words, the numbers that produce the mathematical formulae, which synchronize with our brains and in turn with our hearts.


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