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Wednesday
September 28, 2011
7:00-8:30 PM

Schlafly Bottleworks, Maplewood, MO

Mathematics and Music

David L. Wright, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair of Mathematics

Moderated by: Cynthia Wichelman, M.D.



Mathematics has been observed to be the most abstract of the sciences, music the most abstract of the arts. Mathematics attempts to understand conceptual and logical truth and appreciates the intrinsic beauty of such. Music evokes mood and emotion by the audio medium of tones and rhythms without appealing to circumstantial means of eliciting such innate human reactions. It is therefore not surprising that the symbiosis of the two disciplines is an age old story. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras noted the integral relationships between frequencies of musical tones in a consonant interval; the 18th century musician J. S. Bach studied the mathematical problem of finding a practical way to tune keyboard instruments. In today's world it is not at all unusual to encounter individuals who have significant interest in both subjects.

In this talk, several musical and mathematical notions will be brought together, such as scales/modular arithmetic, octave identification/equivalence relation, intervals/logarithms, equal temperament/exponents, overtones/integers, tone/trigonometry, timbre/harmonic analysis, tuning/rationality. Music concepts to be discussed include scales, intervals, rhythm, meter, melody, chords, progressions, note classes, overtones, timbre, formants, equal temperament, and just intonation. Mathematical concepts covered include integers, rational and real numbers, equivalence relations, geometric transformations, modular arithmetic, logarithms, exponentials, and periodic functions. Each of these notions enters the scene because it is involved in one way or another with a point where mathematics and music converge. A number of musical and sound examples will be played to demonstrate concepts.

Science On Tap highlighted on St. Louis Public Radio and Voice of America!

Science On Tap is a place where, for the price of a beverage, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place outside a traditional academic context, in the Crown Room at Schlafly Bottleworks.


Meetings are held on the last Wednesday of the month during the academic year, usually from 7:00 - 8:30 PM. The standard format is as follows: 20 minutes of presentation, followed by a 7 minute break for attendees to introduce themselves to each other at the table, and then an hour of discussion. Seating is limited to the first 100 people.  No reservations accepted.

Crown Room at the Schlafly Bottleworks
7260 Southwest Ave.
Maplewood, MO 63143
(314) 241-2337

Register to receive e-mail announcements of future Science On Tap events.

Interested in learning about medicine? Check out Washington University's Mini-Medical School!

For more information: e-mail scienceontap@wustl.edu
or call (314) 935-9495