Who Made All This Up?

As we were working on scales the other day, (talking about the patterns of whole steps and half steps, intervallic relationships, the circle of 5ths and other such musical wonders…) my student asked one of those classic deep questions: “Who made all this up, anyway?”

Feeling a little harried by the lack of preparation on the aforementioned scales, I replied with: “Well, nobody made it up, really. It all has to do with physics…and acoustics…and the vibration of sound waves…and such things.” I know. Hardly a worthy answer of the mathematical marvels that underpin the very existence of Music.

But really, where to even begin?

Luckily, the other day I came across this fantastic video! It illuminates in the most approachable way the nature of the overtone series, the behavior of sound waves, and the way our ear and brain translate all of this into sound. Vi Hart has a fantastic YouTube channel, Mathemusician, where she posts videos bound to get anyone and everyone excited about math.  So, the next time one of your students needs an explanation of the science behind their scales, just have them watch this:


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