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Posts Tagged ‘kickass’


There are only so many musical notes in the diatonic scale. You’d think at some point people would run out of ways to arrange them. How many variations are even possible? Especially when you boil the melody down to a single guitar riff that might only last around eight seconds. So you got around twelve notes to play in eight seconds… now give your fans something they haven’t heard before.

Sounds like a daunting task, and yet Jack White of The White Stripes seems to be able to do it twelve times an album.

All it takes is some scientific curiosity and a little google-fu to find a mathematical answer to the question: Will we ever run out of melodies? Will Jack White ever run out of riffs?

…we can estimate the number of all possible “melodies” that can be played within a given time frame. Known limitations of human hearing can provide an estimate on this number. Humans can distinguish about 200 notes per octave and are able to distinguish about 50 notes per second. Within the frequency range humans can hear, the number of all possible “melodies” we can play during one second is about 7 x 10^100, a seven followed by 100 zeros… this number is grossly overestimated… [because] the constraints musical structures put on the sound space are very tight.

It’s doubtful that most people could actually distinguish 200 notes per octave, and 50 notes per second seems rather ambitious, but at least we have an upper-end estimate to work with:

Jack White should be able to think up 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
guitar riffs before repeating himself.

But there ain’t nothing like the awesome simplicity of a good guitar riff, and a simple riff can almost seem more awesome than a complicated one, which begs the question: how many simple riffs could possibly exist? We know they aren’t all used up yet, but that math is too hard, so we’ll just sit back and assume that there are many more good riffs where those came from.

Jack White’s guitar riffs are effing awesome.


 

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