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Bulletin of the Marathwada Mathematical Society Vol. 10, No. 1, June 2009, Pages 2431.

MATHEMATICS OF MUSIC : SOME ELEMENTS D. Y. Kasture 3, Acharya, Shree Colony, Kokanwadi, Padampura Road, Aurangabad - 431 005, M. S. India.

Abstract All music is generated by seven notes and ve semitones; which are sound waves with specied frequency-ratios. The Mathematics of generation of these frequency-ratios in string instruments or in a ute is presented here.

INTRODUCTION Every one likes some type of music. All music is generated by seven notes:

and ve semitones

Thus the arrangement is

In fact these are the names of the key board on the peano. We will use them as the names of the semitones and seven notes. Each note or semitone is a sound wave. The ratio of frequencies of consecutive sound waves is the same. Such an arrangement is called equal tempering. The frequency of the top note c is twice the frequency of the fundamental note C .The problem of generation of such notes or seminotes by the vibration of a ne stretched wire (called string) or by the vibration of air in a ute is therefore important. 24




If a tightly stretched thin wire (string) , xed at both ends, is slightly displaced, it vibrates and creates a sound wave, heard in the form of a musical note. Suppose the string is inextensible, has a uniform tension and density per unit length. An element

P Q of it has length ds, mass ds. The tension-forces of magnitude at P and Q are inclined at angles and + d to x-axis.Since the string is slightly displaced from its horizontal tight equilibrium position, and + d are both very small angles. tan = y/ x is the small slope of the tangent to the string at P. The component in y-direction of the forces of tension at P and Q is sin ( + d) sin d neglecting squares of d. The acceleration of P Q along y-axis is 2 y/ t2 . Hence the Newtons equation of motion for P Q is ( ds) 2 y/ t2 = cos d. Since tan = y/ x, so sec2 d = ( 2 y/ x2 )( x/ s). Hence ( ds) ( 2 y/ t2 ) = cos ( 2 y/ x2 )(x/ s) cos2 = cos4 ( 2 y/ x2 ) = {(1 + (y/ x)2 )}2 2 y/ x2 . 2 y/ x2 , neglecting tan2 = (y/ x)2 . Hence the equation for the transverse displacement y of the string is 2 y/ x2 = (1/c2 )( 2 y/ t2 ), c2 = /. (2.1)

26 Since the ends x = 0 and x =

D. Y. Kasture of the string are xed, the boundary conditions are y(0, t) = y( , t) = 0, t > 0. (2.2)

A solution of (2.1) subject to (2.2) by the method of separation of variables is y = A sin(rx/ ) cos(rct/ ), for r = 1, 2, 3, . . . These are called the normal modes of vibration of the string. For r = 1 the solution y = A sin(x/ ) cos(ct/ ), (2.4) (2.3)

is called the fundamental mode of vibration. Each point x of the string oscillates in time with an amplitude A sin(x/ ), dependent on x. Since cos((ct/ ) + 2) = cos{(c/ )(t + 2 /c)} = cos(ct/ ) the period of oscillation of x is = 2 /c, c2 = /. (2.5)

It is the same for each point of the string. Thus the entire string vibrates with this period. Two extreme positions of vibration of the string are shown below. Since the time

is taken for one vibration, the number of vibrations (oscillations) per unit time, called the frequency of vibration, is n = 1/ = c/(2 ) = (1/2 ) T / (2.6)



Thus the frequency of vibration of the string is inversely proportional to the square root of its line density and to its length while it is directly proportional to the square root of the tension in the taught string. Since and are xed for all time for a programme of instrumental music, the frequency of vibration can be changed by changing the vibrating length of the string. This is easily accomplished by xing the ends of the string in a slightly elevated position on a plain board and then

by pressing a point of the string with a nger against the board on which the string is xed. The frequency for vibration of the entire length of the string is called the . fundamental frequency n given by (2.6) which corresponds to the fundamental note C If the length of the string is halved by pressing its mid point, then the frequency of vibration becomes, (see equation (2.6))], ( /) (1/(2 /2)) = 2n. Thus the frequency is doubled; which is the frequency of vibration corresponding to the top note c . When the requirement is that the string instrument should support the music by a singer, the fundamental frequency corresponding to C of the singer may generally match the corresponding fundamental frequency of the vibrating string. Since now , are xed, this is accomplished by adjusting the tension in a string of the instrument such as violin or sarangi, supporting the music of the singer, by turning the nobs around which the ends of the string are wound.


The frequency n of vibration of the entire length , generates the fundamental note C .The top note c corresponds to the frequency 2n. The frequencies of the remaining 11 notes between n and 2n may be denoted by n1 , n2 , . . . , n11 . Thus the frequencycorrespondence is


D. Y. Kasture The condition to be satised by the scheme of equal tampering is (n1 /n) = (n2 /n1 ) = . . . , = (2n/n11 ) (3.1)

If each ratio = k, then it follows that k 12 = 2, so that k = 12 2. The corresponding length for the frequency ni is denoted by i = Pi B, i = 1, 2, . . . , 11, P0 = A, P12 = B. From (3.1) ni+1 /ni ) = i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , 10,
i / i+1

= Pi B/Pi+1 B =




= . The points P1 , . . . , P11 should be marked on the string between

the ends P0 = A and P12 = B such that (3.2) is satised, [3].


Use of right angled triangle, [3]

A very good approximation to (3.2) is obtained by noting that a close rational ap proximation to 12 2 1.0595 . . . is (18/17) = 1.0588, [3]. Thus Pi should be placed such that Pi B/Pi+1 B = 18/17, i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , 10. (3.3)

Let the string of length be the base AB of a right angled triangle whose height is /8 = AQ0 . Mark P1 on AB by a compass, so that AQ0 = AP1 . Let the perpendicular



meet Q0 B in Q1 . Similarly mark P2 on AB such that P1 Q1 = P1 P2 . Continue this process till P11 is marked. Using the fact that all triangles Pi Qi B, , i = 0, 1, . . . , 11 , are similar to each other, it is easily proved that ni+1 /ni = For example , for i = 0 P0 B/P0 Q0 = 18/1 P0 B/P0 P1 = 18/1. So P0 B/P1 B = P0 B/(P0 B P0 P1 ) = 18/(18 1) = 18/17. Similarly for i = 1 P1 B/P2 B = P1 B/P1 P2 = P0 B/P0 Q0 = 18/1. Therefore, P1 B/P2 B = P1 B/(P1 B P1 P2 ) = 18/(18 1) = 18/17, (3.7) (3.6) (3.5)
i / i+1

= 18/17, i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , 10.


and so on. The points A, P1 , P2 , . . . , B marked by the construction generate the desired ratio18/17 of the frequencies of D#, . . . , c, corresponding to the lengthsP0 B, P1 B, . . . , P11 B C, of the string. Since 18/17 12 2, the construction executes the scheme of equal temperament, with a good approximation,[3].


D. Y. Kasture FLUTE

Air forced by blowing the ute generates sound waves, which are heard as musical tones. They are exhibited as the vibration of air pressure in the ute, generating longitudinal vibrations of air particles along the tube The wave equation for the pressure is, [1, pp 8791], 2 p/ x2 = (1/c2 ) 2 p/ t2 , c2 = ( p/ ) rest. (4.1)

The pressure at both open ends of the tube (ute) is the atmospheric pressure , which is conventionally taken as zero by redening p = P , P being the actual pressure. Thus the boundary conditions are p(0, t) = p( , t) = 0, (4.2) where is the length of the tube. (4.1), (4.2) are equations, similar to the equations (2.1), (2.2) for the vibration of a string. Here, if is the density of air, then c2 is the value of p/ in the equilibrium position of air in the tube. The normal modes of vibration are given by the analogue of (2.3) : p(x, t) = A sin(rx/ ) cos(rct/ ), where r = 1, 2, . . . . The fundamental frequency corresponding to r = 1 is, [2], n = c/2 , (4.4) (4.3)

where is the length of the tube, open at both ends. A simple method of changing is to keep six small circular holes in a line along the tube, which can be closed by six ngers from both hands, [2]. Thus seven main musical notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B can be generated. The fundamental note c is obtained by closing all the holes; and corresponds to the frequency for the entire length of the ute. The next note D is obtained if the hole P1 is opened, so that the length of the air column in the tube changes to P1 B from = AB. In this way successive notes E, F, G, B are obtained by

reducing the length of the air column by successively opening the consecutive holes by removing the ngers from the holes successively. When all holes are open , the note B is generated by the vibration of the column of length P6 B. To get the top note c corresponding to double the fundamental frequency for C , p/ = c is



changed to its double value by more powerful blowing while reducing the length to P5 B, keeping only P6 open, (see equation (4.4)). Semitones are generated by opening the holes half way. For example c# is generated by opening P1 half way by the rst nger. Some ute players take the fundamental frequency for C as that due to length P3 B by opening P1 , P2 , P3 . This corresponds to F in the earlier scheme. More details for playing the ute need not be discussed here. The basic theory is the Mathematical theory of small vibration, for sound wave, generated in an air column.


Equations (2.2) or (4.2) are good approximations to reality, though the reality is not so simple. For example, the small vibrations in strings are also generated by applied periodic forces(such as due to a bow in a violin, [4] or by plucking the string at a point (as in Tambora)). These vibrations are damped due to the resistance of the air or due to friction at the tied ends of the string; [4]. Mathematics of music has thus become a vast subject, a glimpse of which is exhibited here.

[1] Coulson C. A., Waves, Oliver and Boyd, 1958. [2] Hall B. W. and Josic K., The Mathematics of Musical Instruments, American Math. Monthly, 108, (2001), 347357. [3] Harkleroad Leon, Tuning with Triangles, College Maths Journal, Math. Assoc. of America, 39, 5, (2008). [4] Raman C. V. (Sir), On the Mathematical Theory of Vibrations of bowed strings and Musicl Instruments of the Violin Family, with experimental verication of the results. Part I, in the book: Musical Acaustics part I, edited by Carleen M. Hutchins, Halsted Press, 149173; Original paper of 1918 reprinted.