The Geometry of Music

DAILY MUSE | I just read a fascinating article in the current Time Magazine summarizing new music theory discoveries describing a new understanding of the geometry of musical chord progressions. This theory can be applied to all forms of and differing musical styles and offers a new map enabling one to orient from one style to another. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

When you first hear them, a Gregorian chant, a Debussy prelude and a John Coltrane improvisation might seem to have almost nothing in common–except that they all include chord progressions and something you could plausibly call a melody. But music theorists have long known that there’s something else that ties these disparate musical forms together. The composers of these and virtually every other style of Western music over the past millennium tend to draw from a tiny fraction of the set of all possible chords. And their chord progressions tend to be efficient, changing as few notes, by as little as possible, from one chord to the next.

Exactly how one style relates to another, however, has remained a mystery–except over one brief stretch of musical history. That, says Princeton University composer Dmitri Tymoczko, “is why, no matter where you go to school, you learn almost exclusively about classical music from about 1700 to 1900. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

But Tymoczko may have changed all that. Borrowing some of the mathematics that string theorists invented to plumb the secrets of the physical universe, he has found a way to represent the universe of all possible musical chords in graphic form. “He’s not the first to try,” says Yale music theorist Richard Cohn. “But he’s the first to come up with a compelling answer.”

Continue reading the Time Magazine article “The Geometry of Music”

Here are some pertinent links:
Dmitri Tymoczko, Princeton University Composer
The Geometry of Music- Time magazine article
The Geometry of Musical Chords
Chopin- Circle

Chopin- Mobius Strip
Chopin – 4 dimensional space
Deep Purple- Mobius Strip

Chord Geometries


2 responses to “The Geometry of Music

  1. Fascinating article, I have a deep love of music (a lot of Bach) and chords and musical structure hold an especial interest for me.

    It seems as though music has been dying for a rigorous form of analysis and here it might be.



  2. I’ve always been fascinated by music, however I am not a trained musician. This pioneering subject has quite a draw for me though. I may download the programs and plunk around with them awhile and see what shows up/what I hear.

    By the way thanks for the link ggwfung.

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