Clayton Cameron: Why Is Three A Magic Number? Percussionist Clayton Cameron continues his thoughts about the relationship between math and rhythm and why the number three "feels great."
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Why Is 3 A Magic Number?

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Why Is 3 A Magic Number?

Why Is 3 A Magic Number?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, we're solving for X - stories and ideas about how numbers shape our world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: You remember Clayton Cameron, right?

CLAYTON CAMERON: Hello, hello, hello.

RAZ: Clayton, big-time jazz drummer, popping in and out of the show today to explain ideas from his TED Talk about how math and rhythm intersect.

CAMERON: Yeah, it seems, you know, just from the surface, if you said, you know, math and music that - oh, well, that wouldn't swing or groove or...

RAZ: Yeah, math is not...

CAMERON: You know...

RAZ: ...Groovy or swingy.

CAMERON: Yeah. But, you know, when I listen to other musicians, like man, he really sounds good when he does that. You know...

RAZ: Yeah.

CAMERON: ...What is that? Now, I can listen to Phil Collins, Max Roach. I can listen to Tony Williams - these are all drummers...

RAZ: Yeah.

CAMERON: ...Famous drummers...

RAZ: Yeah.

CAMERON: ...Elvin Jones and all these. And each of their styles of playing, they're going to play different threes.

RAZ: Threes?

CAMERON: Absolutely. You know, like the classic rock beat, rock fill. (Imitating rock drum beat to "In The Air Tonight").

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL COLLINS SONG, "IN THE AIR TONIGHT")

CAMERON: So that's a group of three, that fill - one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three. Well, Max Roach, father of bebop drumming along with another drummer by the name of Kenny Clarke, they introduced syncopation into the music like it never had been used before. And so Max used to do this thing where he would - between his left hand and his bass drum and his symbol - would go (imitating drum beat).

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM MUSIC)

CAMERON: And so what you're hearing is one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three (imitating drum beat), you know? "In The Mood" (imitating drum beat) so all those things have the groupings of three. It's - three is like a magic number. It's like, I don't know what the explanation is. Three just feels great.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN MILLER SONG, "IN THE MOOD")

RAZ: Clayton Cameron, he'll be back later. This episode we're solving for X - ideas about math or as our friends in the U.K. might say...

HANNAH FRY: Maths.

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