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Category Archives: Music and Science

Role of science in music

We have discussed enough of science in music in this blog. I am sure that if a child gets to know that so much of science is involved in the rhymes he sings, he is bound to ask a simple question that ‘Do I have to know all these science stuff, before singing’?

What do you think the answer to this question would be? Well, if your answer is ‘No’, then I do agree with you for music is Universal. Then you may ask me why all these science stuff in the blog?

Acquiring knowledge is free of cost these days, thanks to Google. Isn’t it interesting to correlate thus acquired knowledge to phenomena we see in nature? I call our ‘body’ as the biggest phenomena of nature and understanding it has several ways and means, be it through music,dance, yoga or science or whatever!!!

As far as music is concerned, Science in music plays the role of ‘Grammar in a Language’. A butler with his butler English, say, may be able to communicate with the customers better,   than an orator, with his sophisticated grammatically sound language. So the emphasis lies on communication rather than the grammar.

Language is mainly created to communicate the feelings, to express oneself and to develop a rapport with the other person, thereby exchanging ideas with one another. For this, what is required more than grammar is the involvement from within. Similar is the case of Music too. Music brings out the bhava meaning the feelings from within, thus connecting with the Cosmos/Universe/Existence, looping the listeners along with the singers too.

Great Saint Purandaradasaru has sung thus:

kELano hari taaLano…taaLa mELagaLiddu prEmavillada gaana..,

Meaning, God himself doesn’t stand a song which is grammatically sound with taaLa and other accompaniments but lacks the essence of love/bhaava/feelings in it…

You may want to listen to this song, tuned and sung by me: https://devotionalmusic.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/kelano-hari-taalano

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Posted by on February 21, 2016 in Role of Science in music

 

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Music and Hindu Gods and Goddesses

When we come across the ancient Indian sculptures in old temples, one cannot miss a sight of instruments being adored in the hands of our Gods and Goddesses. Examples include, Vishnu holding the conch, Brahma and Saraswathi always seen with Veena, Shiva with Damaru., the vehicle of shiva, Nandi playing mridangam/pakawaj, Ganapathi playing Dhol, Krishna with inseparable flute in his hand, so on and so forth. Here are few pictures depicting the same.

krish7   saraswati ganu nandi

My questioning brain at work now 🙂

  1. What may be the significance of such an association?
  2. Does it imply that music is divine because Hinduism has associated it with Gods and Goddesses or is it divine because it connects the living to the Cosmos, by its virtue?
  3. Why is Saraswati never seen with a mridangam or Shiva always seen with damaru and not Veena, say?

Given a chance to ponder on this, my way, I would do it thus:

We all know that each individual in this existence, from a tiny ant to a gigantic mammoth, to a dwarf, to a baby, to a man, to a woman is unique and significantly different from each other. So is the way of connecting with the cosmos. When I say connecting with the cosmos, I mean, experiencing the superset (Existence/Nature/Cosmos) of which we are all subsets.

The ways and means that establish this connection are many like music, dance, work (as they say work is worship), intellectual knowledge, yoga, etc etc. That’s the reason in scriptures one finds two ways to Salvation as Bhakti marg and Gjnaana marg. Music and Dance fall under the first category and I am totally blank about the second category J.

Music of any form, be it mantras, chants, Carnatic, Hindustani, instruments, dance etc creates vibrations in the energy centers of our body, as discussed in one of my earlier articles in the blog. The energy around each individual is unique. One may resonate to the vibrations of flute, the other to the vibrations of singing, the third with mridangam and so on.

Our spiritually intellectual ancestors have probably realized this and have basically mapped a band of energy to an instrument and have attributed the vibrations of such instruments to different Gods and Goddesses. A person who has a liking to say Lord Shiva, may resonate to the frequencies of any percussion instrument/dance to connect himself with the cosmos, for Shiva is always seen dancing with his damaru. He need not be a player but could be a good listener too and so may be the case with other Gods and Goddesses too.

To conclude: According to my understanding, music of any form is a way of ‘Discovering oneself’. In doing so, one can find innumerable examples of mapping music to different chakras, colors, Gods, Goddesses, emotions, moods etc., with the ultimate sole purpose of discovering oneself.

 

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Mathematics and Chemistry in Music

It is not only Physics that is involved in Music, all forms of basic sciences like mathematics, chemistry, computers and Electronics are used in decoding various aspects of music.

 
Swarakalpana by a musician is nothing but pure mathematical calculation. Why go till swarkalpana, the sarlevarises sung in first second and third speeds involve mathematics in it, in the sense that single note fits in a single beat, in the first speed, 2 notes in a beat in the second speed and 4 of them in a beat in the third tempo. Thus the journey of basic mathematics has already begun. Rhythm is full of complex mathematics, the details of which can be a whole big article by itself. A mridangist plays mridangam with complex calculations of the beats to fit in a given frame of taaLa. Different taaLas have different numbers of notes to be fitted in which is a mere mathematical calculation.

The basic instrument, tambura involves mathematics, as the differences in shruti/frequency are nothing but a complex number chart.

Refer http://www.shadjamadhyam.com/saptak_tanpura_harmonics for detailed numbers.

Not only mathematics, chemistry also enters music in the manufacturing of instruments. Mridangam uses layers of mixture of iron oxide or manganese with cooked rice on its right side, for proper tuning requirements. Violin uses rosin(source:Wikipedia; Rosin, also called colophony or Greek pitch, is a solid form of resin obtained from pines and some other plants, mostly conifers, produced by heating fresh liquid resin to vaporize the volatile liquid terpene components) to grip the strings and make them vibrate clearly. If one has the interest in studying the making of instruments, a lot of  examples can be quoted.
Needless to mention that today’s technology uses a lot of electronic devices and computers to create a new wave in the field of music, be it Carnatic or contemporary music.

 
Psychology and Music, I must say, are inseparable. Music plays a very important role in changing the moods and emotions of an individual, be it the singer or the listener. The title “Psychology and Music” is a chapter of discussion by itself, which I would like to discuss subsequently under a separate title as it is a topic of special interest to me.

Here are a few references which shed light on the mathematical aspects of music.
 1. http://musictraining.in/korvai-in-mridangam-and-upavadhyam
2. http://korvai.org/book.html
 

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Colours, Chakras and Saptaswaras

As a student of Physics, it has been a habit with me to associate everything to science, though the unseen is unexplained by Science. Here is another analogy of Science connecting colours to chakras to Saptaswaras.

colors n chakra

There can be nothing more complex in nature than our own body. Perhaps that is the reason we all look for how things work outside the body for they are much easier to understand than understanding how stuff works within our body. Well, the context of these statements is that I am completely puzzled as to how be sound waves and electromagnetic waves (Visible Light waves, here) mapped together in understanding the chakras (energy centers) of our body.

I am pretty much sure that sound resonates with different frequencies, around the chakras (energy centers) in our body when air enters through nostrils/mouth. Perhaps that is the reason we called sound as “Nada Brahmam”, to me it means connecting to Brahman or Cosmos through nada: sound. As mentioned earlier it is surprising to see that there are 7 chakras and 7 swaras in music, each one mapped on to a corresponding chakra. This is what is taught in chakra meditation.

Reference for chakra meditation: http://www.osho.com/meditate/active-meditations/chakra-sounds-meditation

It is not just the air that resonates within our body. There is something else too which passes through our body just like air. That is ‘light’. Light is also a wave for all we know. So there should be resonance of light too. Isn’t it?

But, isn’t it all the more surprising to see that there is a number tally between colours(7-VIBGYOR) and chakras(7) of the body. Simple mathematics tell me if A=B, B=C, then A=C. In this context, shouldn’t we map the sapta swaras (7 notes) to 7 colours of the visible light spectrum? In doing so aren’t we establishing a relationship between sound waves and electromagnetic waves in spite of their differences?

Let me also give the basic differences between light waves and sound waves. Though both are waves, carrying energy, having frequency, wavelength etc etc, one of the basic differences lies in their frequency range and so wavelength range enormously. Sound waves fall under audible frequency range (20-2000Hz) whereas Light waves have much higher frequency range of 4-8×10 to the power of 14 Hz, which is way away from the audible range. The frequency of colors VIBGYOR fall under the latter category.

Yet colours are associated with the saptaswaras, which to me, only means that there is something else happening within our body, which is connecting sound waves to light waves, which is beyond my understanding as yet.

I am in fact awaiting an interaction on the same from people out there 🙂

 
 

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Physics of Flute applied to Human body

The working of wind instruments is of special interest to me since I could draw an easy analogy between this and human body. This is a humble effort to put my understanding and analogy of the same.

Wind instruments like flute work on the principle of open air columns/open pipes. Explained generally in crude terms, when air is blown through one end of the flute, vibrations/waves set in, which travel the length of the flute body thus producing the sound of a particular frequency. The frequency of vibration or resonance is inversely dependent on the length of the resonating air column. So shorter the tube, higher is the frequency. This frequency is altered by stopping the air at different intervals, through holes on the flute body, thus basically controlling the length of the vibrating/resonating air column/flute body. You may have observed a flutist tapping/closing different holes to produce different notes. This is what I mean when I say stopping the air at different lengths. Vibrating air columns can be of different types, open, closed at one end, cylindrical, conical etc. etc., the basic principle of producing sound being the same.

1649_P_Flutes_01

image courtesy: 826valencia.org

A similar analogy struck me when I was studying the above phenomenon. Isn’t our body also an air column, much more complicated though? I say this because, when we breathe, air inhaled from the nostrils is sent to move all over our body and thus it should become an air column. Then a series of questions/thoughts etc arose in my mind as if this is so, do we resonate with a particular frequency? If so what is the source of the resonant frequency? Do we have a mechanism to control/alter the frequency, as in flutes where holes control the length of the column of air? So on and so forth.

chkrs n notes


 

In quest of an explanation for the above thoughts, I came across the above picture. Then a striking resemblance to the working of flute made me arrive at the following results.

Most of us have heard about the chakras in the human body. As I understand it, these are nothing but the different energy centers in the human body. Everything that is seen in the Universe is nothing but Energy, in different forms. As per my understanding, the air we breathe comes from the cosmos and so we should be resonating with the corresponding frequency in the cosmos. I prefer comparing these chakras to the holes on a flute, which control the frequency of the vibration, thus producing different notes, because for me the number of chakras (7) and the number of notes {sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni- saptaswaras(7 notes)} is not a mere coincidence. Different swaras are produced when the air is tapped by different chakras. The notes can be mapped on to the chakras as the following:

Swaras                      Chakras
Base Sa Base Chakra (Muladhara)
Ri    svadishtana chakra
Ga manipurak
Ma anahata
Pa vishuddha
Dha Agya
Ni Crown chakra

The frequency of the notes go on increasing from base sa to ni and we can see that the length of the vibrating air column, which is our body goes on decreasing from the muladhara chakra to crown chakra.

I hope you find this analogy interesting. Something to ponder on.

 

Note: Suggestions and interactions are welcome

 

 

 
 

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Interesting Facts and Videos

Did you know that?

  1. The body of a mridangam is made of jack tree’s wood and that a mixture made of rice powder, powdered iron and starch is applied on one of its sides to produce high-pitched sounds? Sounds interesting isn’t it? Then why dont you check it out in this Video for yourself?

video courtesy: Asian music circuit on youtube.com

2. The pioneer work in the field of studying physics of instruments was done by Sir CV Raman, a noble prize winner for his discovery of ‘Raman effect’?

Scientific papers by Sir CV Raman include ‘Acoustics'(Volume 2). The volume includes six remarkable papers on the acoustics of Indian musical instruments–the mridangam and tabla, the only percussion instruments in the world that produce harmonic vibrations, and the tanpura and veena.

3. The violin is basically a Western instrument, modified to suit the requirements of Indian music? And that the bow of the violin uses horse’s hair?

Video courtesy: How it’s made from youtube

4. There exists something called musician’s uncertainty principle much similar to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in Quantum mechanics?

Ref : http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/uncertainty.html

 

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Physics of Instruments

Instruments may be widely classified under three categories:

  1. String instruments: examples include tanpura, violin, viola, veena, guitar, mandolin etc., which produce music through the strings.
  2. Wind instruments: examples include flute, recorder, saxophone, trumpet, nagaswaram, morsing etc which produce sound by blowing air into their mouth pieces.
  3. Percussion instruments: examples include mridangam, ghatam, tavil, dhol, pakawaj, drums, etc, which produce sound when they are hit on their designed surfaces.

Now let us try and understand as to how do these instruments produce sound and the factors affecting the quality of the sound it produces. In other words, let us see how music and physics are inter related and how best physics help us understand music.

String instruments produce sound when the strings are plucked either by fingers as in veena, tanpura, mandolins, guitars etc, or by a bow as in violins. When the strings are vibrated through any of the above methods, sound waves propagate along the length of the string. The body of the instrument which is generally hollow, acts as sound box, couple the vibration of strings to the surrounding air, making it audible.

The pitch of the notes produced by the instrument, characterized by the frequency, depends mainly on three factors namely Tension in the string, Length of the string and the thickness of the string which characterizes its density. The tension in the string is generally controlled by loosening or tightening the string. Tighter the string means more is the tension and higher the pitch and vice versa. Length of the vibrating string is generally controlled by stopping the fingers at different lengths from the point where the vibration starts. Shorter the vibrational length, higher is the pitch and vice versa. Thicker the string, lower the pitch.

Wind instruments also basically work under the same principle but for the fact that the physics of an air column applies better than the physics of a stretched string. The instrument basically acts as a hollow tube in which a column of air is set into vibration by the musician blowing into its mouth piece. The rest of what happens is physics of a resonating air column.

Percussion instruments like mridangam, ghatam, drums etc., are generally tuned to a specific frequency. The body of the instrument will be hollow which resonates the sound through it when the surface of their stretched membrane is hit. Larger the surface area of the membrane, lower will be the pitch and viceversa.

Further References for detailed understanding:

  1. http://method-behind-the-music.com/theory/scalesandkeys/
  2. http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/strings.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mridangam
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_instrument
 

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