It’s all got rhythm: researcher

Elvis Presley once said that when you have rhythm, you have it all over. Now, a McGill University professor has used advanced mathematics to prove that The King was more right than he knew.

Elvis Presley once said that when you have rhythm, you have it all over. Now, a McGill University professor has used advanced mathematics to prove that The King was more right than he knew.

Daniel Levitin has found, hidden within nearly 2,000 pieces of classical music, a mathematical pattern that not only holds constant over 400 years of musical history, but also corresponds to fluctuations in everything from the human heartbeat to traffic flow on busy highways.

“I think it’s mind-blowing,” said Levitin, whose paper was published Monday in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. “Nobody’s claiming that the composers know the equation or were trying to fit their work to the equation . . . (but) they’re writing music that conforms to it, perhaps because the brain responds preferentially to it.”

Physicists call the equation in question a one-over-f power distribution.

In its simplest form, it’s a way of mathematically describing the relative frequency of events. In a one-over-f distribution, the second most common event happens half as often as the most common, the third most common event happens one-third as often, and so on.

One-over-f patterns are everywhere.

The formula describes annual flooding levels of the Nile River, voltage fluctuations in electronic components and traffic flow on U.S. interstates. It can be found in the signals across nerve endings, the minute variations of a human heartbeat, even in DNA patterns. In the 1970s, one researcher found one-over-f in the pattern of pitches used in a small sample of classical music. Levitin said he’d always wondered if the same held true for rhythm.

“Rhythm is what gets you out of your seat, so I’ve been wanting to do this study for 20 years.”

He and his colleagues took 1,788 different pieces of music by composers from J.S. Bach to Scott Joplin and broke each line of music down according to the length of its individual notes. Entering the data took 500 hours, but the result was worth it.

“What we found is that, like pitch, rhythm conforms to this one-over-f law,” Levitin said.

Nobody knows why all this should be, but Levitin has a theory. “Our brains have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Part of the evolution of brains is that they have to incorporate certain regularities and principles of the physical world, even ones we’re not aware of. There are these things that are built into the structure of the brain that follow regularities in the physical world. I think this one-over-f is something (like that).”

Just Posted

Rebels drop home opener to Oil Kings

The Edmonton Oil Kings were simply better than the Red Deer Rebels… Continue reading

Sylvan Lake cleanup cancelled

Weather prompts cancellation

Alzheimer Society’s COFFEE BREAK campaign is back

Raising money to help families with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Orr wins UCP nomination

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA continues as UCP representative

RDC Kings topple Medicine Hat College Rattlers

Kings Matheus Alves scores twice in the win

RDC Kings topple Medicine Hat College Rattlers

Kings Matheus Alves scores twice in the win

Nurse leads Canada over South Korea 82-63 at FIBA Women’s World Cup

TENERIFE, Spain — Kia Nurse poured in 29 points to lift Canada… Continue reading

Aretha Franklin exhibit debuts with eye toward her legacy

DETROIT — The Detroit museum that hosted Aretha Franklin’s public visitations after… Continue reading

‘Anaana’s Tent’ passes Inuit songs, legends, language to a new generation

In Pangnirtung, Nunavut, on the eastern tip of Baffin Island, Rita Claire… Continue reading

Housing data decision opens door to real estate innovation, say realtors

TORONTO — Realtor Daniel Steinfeld has wanted to post home sales data… Continue reading

Ty Long kicks winning field goal, Lions come back to beat Ticats in OT

VANCOUVER — Ty Long was eager for a special moment, and he… Continue reading

Indigenous eateries take centre stage in Canada thanks to increasing awareness

VANCOUVER — Since Paul Natrall started serving Indigenous cuisine from his Mr.… Continue reading

Canada’s capital region reeling after intense tornado rips through communities

OTTAWA — Parts of Canada’s national capital were still reeling Saturday after… Continue reading

Coaches, players on Alberta university rugby team buckle up for the Broncos

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — The head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns… Continue reading

Most Read