What is Music?

Music gives us joy because it expresses the unity of nature. The way things work out. The way things are connected. Why should it be that way? Why should different frictions created in the air harmonize with each other and please us? It confirms to us that the universe is human, and made for humans. It’s famously known that Bach said that all of his music is to glorify God. What he means by that is the very creation of a musical piece is a celebration of God. It comes from God just as mathematics does. They both show an order in chaos within nature. 

The Mathematics of Music

Humanity has spent thousands of years discovering the inner workings of music. Eventually we reached a formula which we perfected ever more. We discovered inner connections of musical sounds and that’s how the scale was born. The Scale is the collection of puzzle pieces, or a kind of alphabet, that we use to build songs. That scale stayed with us forever and hasn’t changed since, it became the formula out of which all songs are created. Composers particularly in the Baroque Era enjoyed the flourishing that came about since the perfecting of that system, that’s when the last piece of the puzzle was put in place and sequences naturally grew out of each other. Music started to make sense like never before.

First let’s go back to Genesis. We discovered that every note returns on a higher level. Meaning that if you start from one note and keep going up you eventually hit the same note again with exactly double the frequency which makes it thinner and higher but nevertheless is recognisable as the same note. If you start on a note with a certain frequency and keep going up you eventually will hit a note with exactly double the frequency which will sound the same but at a higher level as if sung by a child rather than an adult. That’s the first step in discovering that music has an interrelated system which needs to be discovered. 

From then on humanity continued to search for which steps to fill in between such two notes. How many steps to put in going up between the two notes. We eventually found the most balanced staircase between the two notes which makes most musical sense and creates an alphabet with which we can play. That system consists of 7 steps to reach the double frequency of the same note you started with. Together with the first note they’re 8 notes. 

Of course you can continue going up after that 8th note, the system just starts again on the higher frequency and from there you go again up 7 steps to reach the next duplication of the start note. 

In the same way you can go down beneath the first note, if you go down 7 steps you’ll reach the note with half the frequency of the starting note. 

Those notes became the floor and roof of this system. They become the home of the system. They become the home of songs written within that system. If I can be a sinful reductionist for a second, all songs affect you by inventing some kind of journey from and to home which are the notes we just discussed. What gives you the feeling of a home and comfort in a song is reaching one of those notes. You feel relief in a song when it reaches it and you feel discomfort when it doesn’t. You can feel that the song isn’t finished when it hasn’t yet resolved to one of those floor or roof notes. 

You can start to see that music is a very interrelated system. A mathematical system which our brains perceive and rejoice in. Music, if you will, is the celebration of order, the celebration of math, the celebration of the humanity of the universe which assures us we were meant to be here. I now understand why I always felt that music is like an experience of heaven. Why music reinstalled in me a sense of home and hope. It literally is the experience of God’s will expressing itself in our universe. 

Published by David Frankel

David Frankel, from Antwerp, Belgium, living in Jerusalem, Israel. Performing in concerts, teaching music. Classical and Chassidic music on classical guitar.

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