Pythagorean Philosophy and its influence on Musical Instrumentation and
"Music is the harmonization of opposites, the unification of
disparate things, and the conciliation of warring elements... Music is the
basis of agreement among things in nature and of the best government in the
universe. As a rule it assumes the guise of harmony in the universe, of
lawful government in a state, and of a sensible way of life in the home.
It brings together and unites." - The Pythagoreans
Every school student will recognize his name as the originator of
that theorem which offers many cheerful facts about the square on the
hypotenuse. Many European philosophers will call him the father of
philosophy. Many scientists will call him the father of science. To
musicians, nonetheless, Pythagoras is the father of music. According to
Johnston, it was a much told story that one day the young Pythagoras was
passing a blacksmith's shop and his ear was caught by the regular intervals
of sounds from the anvil. When he discovered that the hammers were of
different weights, it occured to him that the intervals might be related to
those weights. Pythagoras was correct. Pythagorean philosophy maintained
that all things are numbers. Based on the belief that numbers were the
building blocks of everything, Pythagoras began linking numbers and music.
Revolutionizing music, Pythagoras' findings generated theorems and
standards for musical scales, relationships, instruments, and creative
formation. Musical scales became defined, and taught. Instrument makers
began a precision approach to device construction. Composers developed new
attitudes of composition that encompassed a foundation of numeric value in
addition to melody. All three approaches were based on Pythagorean
philosophy. Thus, Pythagoras' relationship between numbers and music had a
profound influence on future musical education, instrumentation, and
The intrinsic discovery made by Pythagoras was the potential order to
the chaos of music. Pythagoras began subdividing different intervals and
pitches into distinct notes. Mathematically he divided intervals into
wholes, thirds, and halves. "Four distinct musical ratios were discovered:
the tone, its fourth, its fifth, and its octave." (Johnston, 1989). From
these ratios the Pythagorean scale was introduced. This scale
revolutionized music. Pythagorean relationships of ratios held true for
any initial pitch. This discovery, in turn, reformed musical education.
"With the standardization of music, musical creativity could be recorded,
taught, and reproduced." (Rowell, 1983). Modern day finger exercises, such
as the Hanons, are neither based on melody or creativity. They are simply
based on the Pythagorean scale, and are executed from various initial
pitches. Creating a foundation for musical representation, works became
recordable. From the Pythagorean scale and simple mathematical
calculations, different scales or modes were developed. "The Dorian,
Lydian, Locrian, and Ecclesiastical modes were all developed from the
foundation of Pythagoras." (Johnston, 1989). "The basic foundations of
musical education are based on the various modes of scalar relationships."
(Ferrara, 1991). Pythagoras' discoveries created a starting point for
structured music. From this, diverse educational schemes were created upon
basic themes. Pythagoras and his mathematics created the foundation for
musical education as it is now known.
According to Rowell, Pythagoras began his experiments demonstrating
the tones of bells of different sizes. "Bells of variant size produce
different harmonic ratios." (Ferrara, 1991). Analyzing the different ratios,
Pythagoras began defining different musical pitches based on bell diameter,
and density. "Based on Pythagorean harmonic relationships, and Pythagorean
geometry, bell-makers began constructing bells with the principal pitch
prime tone, and hum tones consisting of a fourth, a fifth, and the octave."
(Johnston, 1989). Ironically or coincidentally, these tones were all
members of the Pythagorean scale. In addition, Pythagoras initiated
comparable experimentation with pipes of different lengths. Through this
method of study he ...
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