Music & Math:

the Mathematics of Music Notation

Tom Crawford

Tanque Verde Unified School District

Instrumental Music and Technology Integration


The essence of rhythm in music is mathematics. In fact, much of what musicians use to produce music involves math, physics, even language arts and "social studies." When a musician produces a tone, he or she is dependant upon the physics of air movement, the ability of an instrument to produce (with their input) a given frequency, and the ability to measure time in specific increments - among a plethora of other requirements.

Musical Rhythm involves keeping track of time (duration) in a horizontal direction (left to right in music notation) and determining how high or low (pitch) a sound is, is determined by up or down movement in music notation. These two aspects of written music notation correspond to the mathematical coordinate plane.

If a music educator can utilize this similarity he or she can begin tap into the wealth of cross-curricular information available and at the same time reinforce the mathematical concepts to which they refer.

The following links are meant to accessed sequentially (although it's perfectly acceptable to peruse each area separately for familiarity) and it is important to take note of the remarks below.

Note to teachers: The first link ("The Mathematical Coordinate Plane") opens a new window and is outside of this site. Only the first two pages of that site are truly applicable to the context of this lesson but the third is interesting as well.

Once the student has read the material on that site the student should then return to this page and continue by clicking on "The Musical Coordinate Plane."

Moving through the rest of the site is virtually self-explanatory.

For questions, please contact the author: Tom Crawford