Music, Math, Archaeology

This is a 90-minute curriculum unit designed for history of music or history of mathematics classes. It can also be presented, as a special event, for faculty – for example, as a STEM Education Presentation (see University of British Columbia event below).

Using simple mathematics, participants derive the heptagram on Mesopotamian tablet CBS 1766. In so doing, they explore, through hands-on experience, the ancient mathematical origins of modern music theory.

Participants learn why the fret board of a guitar looks the way it does and why the octave is divided into twelve notes. They also learn about the origin of the seven-note major scale and the five-note pentatonic scale.

History of Mathematics Class at Simon Fraser University

Participants learn about the sequence 4,1,5,2,6,3,7 – a sequence that was integral to the Mesopotamian tonal system.

History of Music Class at the University of Victoria

They learn that this sequence of numbers is important not only in understanding modern-day music theory, but also in understanding the importance of music in ancient cosmological tradition – for, in fact, the musical sequence 4,1,5,2,6,3,7 explains the order of the days of the week.

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