How to Play (with) Music

Simon is continuing to explore the world of music outside formal piano lessons (which he currently doesn’t attend due to Covid disruptions). He has learned polyrhythms on Adam Neely’s channel and showed me how a 3 to 2 polyrhythm turns into a perfect fifth interval when sped up over 50 times (because the pitches in the perfect fifth relate by 3 to 2 ratio). He actually recreated that in Wondershare Filmora editor. Simon taught me the phrases to remember that help produce the right polyrhythms:

3 to 2 sounds like “Nice cup of tea”

4 to 3 sounds like “Pass the bread and butter” (and even more like “Pass the goddamn butter”)

5 to 4 sounds like “I’m looking for a home to buy”

And then Simon made his own three octave synth in p5.JS. He got inspired by the piano chapter in the book we’re reading, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe, where the author speculates how many keys can be added to both ends of the piano to account for the high and low pitch frequencies audible to other animals, the far infrared tones and “the music of the sea”. The chapter reflects upon what infrasounds really are. Simon first suggested that they were like percussion beats (separated into a series of individual sounds rather than blurred into a single hum). His 3 to 2 polyrhythm blurred into a perfect fifth when sped up. Wouldn’t it separate back into beats when slowed down again? Munroe argued that when we hear a series of beats, that means each of them is made up of higher frequency components within normal hearing range. “A pure tone, on the other hand, is just a simple sine wave; the sound is made up of air moving smoothly forward and backward. When it slows down to below 20 cycles per second, there are no “clicks” to hear. It just becomes a pulsating pressure wave. We may feel it, as a pressure change in the air or a sensation on our skin, but our ears don’t interpret it as sound”, Munroe explains.

In the video below Simon shows how his synth works. He also added an interactive grid that you can use to write a simple composition:

Demo version synth with interactive grid to compose music:

Code synth with interactive grid to compose music:

Demo version playable three octave keyboard:

Code playable three octave keyboard:

When he does practice real piano, Simon’s interest is currently fixed on teaching himself to play familiar pieces in different keys (something that proved to be extra hard for someone with perfect pitch).

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