How To Transform The Number Pi Into A Song

Monday is March 14 — aka 3/14, a date celebrated the world over as "Pi Day," after the irrational number. This year, to celebrate, musician Michael John Blake had the idea to compose, record and put on YouTube a musical interpretation of the most famous mathematical constant.

His approach? He decided the song would be in C, then assigned each note a number: C=1, D=2 and so on up through 9. Using those assignments, he played the sequence of pi: 3.14159 through 31 decimal places. He assigned numbers to chords, too, but could only play the chords every other note and still make it sound vaguely musical.

Finally, he used pi as the basis for the tempo — it's 157 beats per minute, which is half of 314. He played this part on several instruments, and layered them to make a song. The result isn't exactly catchy, but it's certainly melodic.

"It's random enough to where it's kind of odd, but then, because it's all based in the major scale, it musically works out to where it's sort of pleasing to the ear," Blake says. "For me, it has this great combination of pleasant but also slightly weird — kind of haunting."

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Clarification March 22, 2011

Several musicians through the years have put pi to music. An earlier version of this story included the YouTube video of Michael John Blake's piece, but the video was removed by YouTube because of a copyright claim by Lars Erickson.

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