Manresa Course Spotlight: A Mathematical Playbill to Music

Manresa Scholars will have the opportunity to participate in perhaps one of Fordham’s most unique math courses, “Beats, Vibration and Harmony: A Mathematical Playbill to Music.” Taught by Professor Rolf Ryham, the course will examine classic mathematical concepts found in music. Students will consider pitches, consonance, and dissonance through mathematical properties such as trigonometry, and explore musical scales and symmetry within musical composition. The material does not assume a background in Calculus or music theory.

Students will gain scientific and mathematical writing abilities, learn to model real-world situations through mathematical problems, and utilize software to compute and generate tones. “One of the course highlights is the possibility to step back in history and appreciate how music may have sounded in its original form. Some musicians say that each musical key (C, G, etc.) has a special character well suited to the piece, e.g. a key can feel mellow, or feel aggressive. But in our modern tuning there should in principle be no difference between one key to the next because of the way it’s mathematically constructed,” said Professor Ryham.

The course fulfills the Eloquentia Perfecta 1 and Mathematical/Computational Reasoning core requirements. Therefore, while it is a math course, students will strengthen their writing and speaking skills through papers and presentations where they will use mathematics to explain and describe musical sounds.

“What I hope for students to get from this course is the habit of taking note of the physical and digital world, and using mathematical thinking to describe and make predictions about what they are seeing,” said Professor Ryham.

Anja Asato, FCRH 2018
Manresa Programming and Marketing Fellow, 2016-2017

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