# three mathematical primes

Ramsay
"Euler, while treating of music, shows that there are just three mathematical primes, namely 2, 3, and 5, employed in the production of the musical notes - the first, in ratio of 2 to 1, producing Octaves; the second, in the ratio of 3 to 1, producing Fifths; and the third, in the ratio of 5 to 1, producing Thirds. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 8]

"There are three primary and pregnant ratios which produce the chords and scales. The first is the ratio of 1:2, producing Octaves, and nothing else; the second is the ratio of 2:3, producing Fifths; the third is the ratio of 4:5, producing Thirds.
The ratio of 1:2 is essentially simple in its character, and any power of the prime 2 always produces a note like itself. It is a law in musical science that doubling or halving a number never changes its character. Whatever ratios and notes are produced from the first power, the square, and the cube of any number, the same kind of ratios and notes will be produced, in the genesis of octaves, by the doubles or halves of that number. On this account the prime 2 has unlimited powers in producing notes, and is used in the first place in getting a series of octaves from 1 as unity;" [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 26]

"notes which are produced by the two primes, 3 and 5. As the quadrant contains all the angles which give the different proportions in form, so does the ratio of 1:2, or the area of an octave, contain all the different notes in music. The ratio of 1:2 corresponds to unity, and, like the square and the circle in form, admits of no varieties. Half the length of a string gives an octave when the string is homogeneous and uniform; if the one half has more gravity than the other, the center of gravity of the whole string gives the octave. The ratio of 1:2 rests on the center of gravity.
While the ratio of 1:2 corresponds to rest, and to the force of gravity, the ratio of 2:3 corresponds to motion, and to the centrifugal force. The prime 2, by any of its powers, never produces a new note. The prime 3 always produces a new note, and on this account its powers are limited to the first power, the square, and the cube, and each of these powers of 3 produces one new note.
The prime 5, like the prime 3, produces new notes. One of these, namely A5, is derived from unity, i.e., the note produced by the ratio of 1:2; the second note is produced from the note derived from the first power of 3, namely E15; and the third is produced from the note derived from the second power of 3, namely B45. The notes thus produced by the prime 5 are the middles, that is, the thirds of the chords. As it is the second and third powers of 3 which possess great centrifugal force, and not the first power of that number; and as it is only the first power of the number 5 which Nature employs in this business, so this makes the character of the notes produced by the prime 5 to depend on the character of the notes from which they are derived. One of the 3 notes produced by the prime 5 is derived from unity, that is the note produced by the ratio of 1:2, and like that note it is strongly acted on by the force of gravity.1 A second note produced by the prime 5 is derived from the note produced by the second power of 3, and like that note it possesses increased" [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 27]

Now we come to a remarkable arrangement of Nature. The minor does not grow in the same way out of this third chord's top. Two features come before us: first the minor chord grows out of the major, but it is taken not from the top but from the middle, from a rib out of his side. B, the middle of the major dominant chord; B, the last-born of the major genesis; B is the point of departure in the outgrowth of the minor mode. The feminine is a lateral growth from the masculine. Another feature: it grows downward, like a drooping ash or willow. Its first generated chord is its dominant, and its last is its subdominant. Its middle chord, like the middle one of the major, is its tonic. Still further, it is generated by division, not multiplication; B45 is divided by 3 and by 5 for the root and middle of this highest chord, E and G. E15 is divided by 3 and 5 for the root and middle of the tonic chord, A and C. A5 is divided by 3 and 5 for the root and middle of the lowest chord, D and F. Thus we have the whole generation of the elements of music, six generations of harmony, like the six days of creation. Up to this point the whole process and aspect is inverse; growing from a middle; growing downward; growing by division;- while the major is growing from the top; growing upward; growing by multiplication. But here the inverse aspect ends. The generating primes of the major are 3 and 5; 3 and 5 are also the generating primes of the minor. In this essential phase of their creation their comparison is direct, not inverse. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 67]

Music, and mathematics have nothing more to do with it. Already the Law of Position has guided the genesis upward in the major; and while mathematical primes were generating the chords one after another in precisely the same way and form, like peas in a pod, the Law of Position was arranging them one over the other, and so appointing them in their relative position each its own peculiar musical effect bright and brighter. And when the major had been thus evolved and arranged by ratios and position, another law, the Law of Duality, gave the mathematical operation its downward direction in the minor; and while the primes which measured the upward fifths of the major also measure the downward fifths of the minor, the Law of Position is placing them in their relative position, and appointing each its own peculiar effect grave and graver. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 68]

If it be asked why no more primes than 2, 3, and 5 are admitted into musical ratios, one reason is that consonances whose vibrations are in ratios whose terms involve 7, 11, 13, etc., would be less simple and harmonious than those whose terms involve the lesser primes only. Another reason is this - as perfect fifths and other intervals resulting from the number 3 make the schism of a comma with perfect thirds and other intervals resulting from the number 5, so intervals resulting from the numbers 7, 11, 13, etc., would make other schisms with both those kinds of intervals. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 75]

There is nothing extraordinary in this. It is another fact which gives this one its importance, and that is that the musical system is composed of three fifths rising one out of another; so this note by 3/4 becomes the root not only of a chord, but the root of all the three chords, of which the middle one is the tonic; the chord of the balance of the system, the chord of the key; the one out of which it grows, and the one which grows out of it, being like the scales which sway on this central balance-beam. Thus F takes its place, C in the center, and G above. These are the 3 fifths of the system on its masculine or major side. The fractions for A, E, and B, the middle notes of the three chords, are 4/5, 3/5, and 8/15; this too tells a tale; 5 is a new ingredient; and as 3 gives fifths, 5 gives thirds. From these two primes, 3 and 5, along with the integer or unit, all the notes of the system are evolved, the octaves of all being always found by 2. When the whole system has been evolved, the numbers which are the lengths of the strings in the masculine or major mode are the numbers of the vibrations of the notes of the feminine or minor mode; and the string-length-numbers of the minor or feminine are the vibration-numbers of the notes of the major or masculine mode. These two numbers, the one for lengths and one for vibrations, when multiplied into each other, make in every case 720; the octave of 360, the number of the degrees of the circle. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 76]

At the first, in the laws of quantities and motions adjusting musical vibrations, there is one chord of the three notes, F, A, C, the root, middle, and top of the five notes which compose the true natural scale; this one chord can be reproduced a fifth higher, C, E, G, in the same mathematical form, taking the top of the first for the root of the second chord. In like manner this second can be reproduced another fifth higher, G, B, D, still in the same mathematical form, and so fit to be a member of the chord-scale of a key. But the law does not admit of another reproduction without interfering with the first chord, so that a fourth fifth produces no new effect; but the whole key is simply a fifth higher, i.e., if the fifth has been properly produced by multiplying the top of the third fifth by 3 and by 5, the generating primes in music. That this carries us into a new scale is seen in that the F is no longer the F? but F#, and the A is no longer A? but A,. But if we suppose the fourth fifth to be simply the old notes with their own vibration numbers, then D, F, A would not be a fifth belonging either to the major or the minor mode, but a fifth a comma less. The letters of it would read like the minor subdominant, D, F, A; but the intervals, as found in the upward development of the major genesis, instead of being, when expressed in commas, 9, 5, 8, 9, which is the minor subdominant, would be 8, 5, 9, 8, which is not a fifth of the musical system; these having always, whether major or minor, two 9's, one [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 77]

N.B. - The sharp comes here by the prime 5, and the comma by the prime 3. Now we have the key of G provided for;-

These are two octaves of the scale of G. G A B, which in the scale of C was an 8-9-comma third, must now take the place of C D E, which in C was a 9-6-comma [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 82]

N.B. - The flat comes here by the prime 5, and the comma by the prime 3. Now we have the key of D provided for:-

[Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 84]

The intervening chord between the Diatonic and Chromatic systems, B, D, F. - This chord, which has suffered expatriation from the society of perfect chords, is nevertheless as perfect in its own place and way as any. From its peculiar relation to both major and minor, and to both diatonic and chromatic things, it is a specially interesting triad. F, which is the genetic root of all, and distinctively the root of major subdominant, has here come to the top by the prime 2. D, here in the middle, is diatonically the top of the major dominant, and the root of the minor subdominant; and on account of its self-duality, the most interesting note of all; begotten in the great genesis by the prime 3. B, the last-begotten in the diatonic genesis, top of the diatonic minor, middle of the dominant major, and begotten by the prime 5, is here the quasi root of this triad, which in view of all this is a remarkable summation of things. This B, D, F is the mors janua vitae in music, for it is in a manner the death of diatonic chords, being neither a perfect major nor a perfect minor chord; yet it is the birth and life of the chromatic phase of music. In attracting and assimilating to itself the elements by which it becomes a full chromatic chord, it gives the minor dominant the G# which we so often see in use, and never see explained; and it gives the major subdominant a corresponding A?, less frequently used. It is quite clear that this chromatic chord in either its major phase as B, D, F, A?, or its minor phase as G#, B, D, F, is as natural and legitimate in music as anything else; and like the diatonic chords, major and minor, it is one of three, exactly like itself, into which the octave of semitones is perfectly divided. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 101]

Six Octaves required for the Birth of the Scale

EXPLANATION OF PLATES.
[BY THE EDITOR.]

THIS plate is a Pendulum illustration of the System of musical vibrations. The circular lines represent Octaves in music. The thick are the octave lines of the fundamental note; and the thin lines between them are lines of the other six notes of the octave. The notes are all on lines only, not lines and spaces. The black dots arranged in these lines are not notes, but pendulum oscillations, which have the same ratios in their slow way as the vibrations of sounding instruments in the much quicker region where they exist. The center circle is the Root of the System; it represents F1, the root of the subdominant chord; the second thick line is F2, its octave; and all the thick lines are the rising octaves of F, namely 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. In the second octave on the fifth line are dots for the three oscillations which represent the note C3, the Fifth to F2, standing in the ratio of 3 to 2; and the corresponding lines in the four succeeding Octaves are the Octaves of C3, namely 6, 12, 24, and 48. On the third line in the third Octave are 5 dots, which are the 5 oscillations of a pendulum tuned to swing 5 to 4 of the F close below; and it represents A5, which is the Third of F4 among musical vibrations. On the first line in the fourth Octave are 9 dots. These again represent G9, which stands related to C3 as C3 stands to F1. On the seventh line of the same octave are 15 dots; these represent the vibrations of E15, which stands related to C3 as A5 stands to F1. On the sixth line of the fifth Octave are 27 dots, representing D27, which stands related to G9 as G9 stands to C3, and C3 also to F1; it is the Fifth to G. And last of all, on the fourth line of the sixth Octave are 45 dots, representing B45, which, lastly, stands related to G9 as E15 stands to C3, and A5 to F1; it is the Third to this third chord - G, B, D. The notes which arise in each octave coming outward from the center are repeated in a double number of dots in the following Octaves; A5 appears as 10, 20, and 40; G9 appears as 18 and 36; E15 appears as 30 and 60; D27 appears as 54; and last of all B45 only appears this once. This we have represented by pendulum oscillations, which we can follow with the eye, the three chords of the musical system, F, A, C; C, E, G; and G, B, D. C3 is from F1 multiplied by 3; G9 is from C3 multiplied by 3; these are the three Roots of the three Chords. Their Middles, that is their Thirds, are similarly developed; A is from F1 multiplied by 5; E15 is from C3 multiplied by 5; B45 is from G9 multiplied by 5. The primes 3 and 5 beget all the new notes, the Fifths and the Thirds; and the prime 2 repeats them all in Octaves to any extent. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 102]

The middle Fig. is the same, the central D's being made a pivot point on which to turn the minor down against the major in an inverse relation, setting the dual notes in file. The multiplying primes are set over the roots. The arrows point out the notes so found. The two D's are here seen right opposite of each other, because the intervals between C D in the major and E D in the minor are equal. [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 103]

When Leonhard Euler, the distinguished mathematician of the eighteenth century, wrote his essay on a New Theory of Music, Fuss remarks - "It has no great success, as it contained too much geometry for musicians, and too much music for geometers." There was a reason which Fuss was not seemingly able to observe, namely, that while it had hold of some very precious musical truth it also put forth some error, and error is always a hindrance to true progress. Euler did good service, however. In his letters to a German Princess on his theory of music he showed the true use of the mathematical primes 2, 3, and 5, but debarred the use of 7, saying, "Were we to introduce the number 7, the tones of an octave would be increased." It was wise in the great mathematician to hold his hand from adding other notes. It is always dangerous to offer strange fire on the altar. He very clearly set forth that while 2 has an unlimited use in producing Octaves, 3 must be limited to its use 3 times in producing Fifths. This was right, for in producing a fourth Fifth it is not a Fifth for the scale. But Euler erred in attempting to generate the semitonic scale of 12 notes by the use of the power of 5 a second time on the original materials. It produces F# right enough; for D27 by 5 gives 135, which is the number for F#. D27 is the note by which F# is produced, because D is right for this process in its unaltered condition. But when Euler proceeds further to use the prime 5 on the middles, A, E, and B, and F#, in their original and unaltered state, he quite errs, and produces all the sharpened notes too low. C# for the key of D is not got by applying 5 to A40, as it is in its birthplace; A40 has already been altered for the key of G by a comma, and is A40 1/2 before it is used for producing its third; it is A40 1/2 that, multiplied by 5, gives C#202 1/2, not C200, as Euler makes C#. Things are in the same condition with E before G# is wanted for the key of A. G# is found by 5 applied to E; not E in its original and unaltered state, E30; but as already raised a comma for the key of D, E30 3/8; so G# is not 300, as Euler has it, but 303 3/4. Euler next, by the same erroneous methods, proceeds to generate D# from B45, its birthplace number; but before D# is wanted for the key of E, B has been raised a comma, and is no longer B45, but B45 9/16, and this multiplied by 5 gives D#227 13/16, not D225, as Euler gives it. The last semitone which he generates to complete his 12 semitones is B?; that is A#, properly speaking, for this series, and he generates it from F#135; but this already altered note, before A# is wanted for the key of B, has been again raised a comma [Scientific Basis and Build of Music, page 107]