A Geometry of Music

Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice

by Dmitri Tymoczko

Series: Oxford Studies in Music Theory

How is the Beatles' "Help!" similar to Stravinsky's "Dance of the Adolescents?" How does Radiohead's "Just" relate to the improvisations of Bill Evans? And how do Chopin's works exploit the non-Euclidean geometry of musical chords?In this groundbreaking work, author Dmitri Tymoczko describes a new framework for thinking about music that emphasizes the commonalities among styles from medieval polyphony to contemporary rock. Tymoczko identifies five basic musical features that jointly contribute to the sense of tonality, and shows how these features recur throughout the history of Western music. In the process he sheds new light on an age-old question: what makes music sound good?A Geometry of Music provides an accessible introduction to Tymoczko's revolutionary geometrical approach to music theory. The book shows how to construct simple diagrams representing relationships among familiar chords and scales, giving readers the tools to translate between the musical and visual realms and revealing surprising degrees of structure in otherwise hard-to-understand pieces.Tymoczko uses this theoretical foundation to retell the history of Western music from the eleventh century to the present day. Arguing that traditional histories focus too narrowly on the "common practice" period from 1680-1850, he proposes instead that Western music comprises an extended common practice stretching from the late middle ages to the present. He discusses a host of familiar pieces by a wide range of composers, from Bach to the Beatles, Mozart to Miles Davis, and many in between.A Geometry of Music is accessible to a range of readers, from undergraduate music majors to scientists and mathematicians with an interest in music. Defining its terms along the way, it presupposes no special mathematical background and only a basic familiarity with Western music theory. The book also contains exercises designed to reinforce and extend readers' understanding, along with a series of appendices that explore the technical details of this exciting new theory.

In The Press

"As far as I know, the intersection of those who are distinguished composers and those who have published in Science contains one member: the author of this book. If you are interested in tonality in music, you must read it, because it describes by far the most comprehensive theory of what makes tonal music work." --Philip Johnson-Laird, Stuart Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
"A Geometry of Music is an epoch-making publication in music theory and will certainly stimulate other new and innovative work in the field. Tymoczko has produced an outstandingly original synthesis of new music theory that unifies quite a large number of separate subfields and realizes the theorist's dream of finding the rational basis for tonality and tonal-compositional practices in music." --Daniel Harrison, Allen Forte Professor of Music Theory and Chair, Yale University Department of Music
"A provocative and ingenious melding of music, geometry, and history that promises to change the way that composers, music theorists, and cognitive scientists view music." --Gary Marcus, Professor of Psychology, New York University and author of Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of The Human Mind
"Tymoczko's A Geometry of Music is an appealingly written, substantial treatise on tonal harmony. The author introduces his original concepts with clarity and fearlessness. Musicologists, musicians, and listeners with an analytical bent will find plenty of ideas to chew on in this intriguing, rewarding book." --Vijay Iyer, musician
"Tymoczko confronts with apparent relish the daunting challenge of selling his ideas to a broad audience of theorists, composers, musicians, and students, and his ability to capture the intricacies of complex material while presenting it clearly and comprehensibly is praiseworthy...If the author's way of doing music theory or promulgating his results is not quite like most of the music theory that we have learned and taught, that is hardly a sufficient reason why we should not give his powerful ideas the attention they deserve." --Music Theory Online
"A tour de force, a rich and suggestive summation of an exciting new perspective, -a jumping-off point for further explorations. His geometric diagrams provide new kinds of spatialized representations of the aural facts of tonal experience. They may help composers and musicians to 'see' new possibilities within that intricate labyrinth, as well as to bring the old ones to life anew." --Times Literary Supplement
"Formidable...The strongest aspect of Tymoczko's book is the case that he gives for voice-leading in the common practice." --Reason Papers

About The Author

Dmitri Tymoczko is a composer and music theorist who teaches at Princeton University. His CD Beat Therapy is available from Bridge records.