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The music breakdown…literally

May 2, 2017

How many times have you heard a comment like: “Math is not for me. Music is what I want to do.”?

There’s a common stereotype that the arts and math exist in different realms of talent, or even different parts of the brain. However, historically speaking, arts and math have long been intertwined. The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece were the first researchers known to have investigated the expression of musical scales in terms of numerical ratios.

But, what is music, really?

One of the simplest, yet most accurate, definitions of music is: sound(s) organized with rhythm, melody and harmony, put together in a meaningful way. All three components — rhythm, melody and harmony — can be described by numbers associated with physical properties. You have probably heard of “harmonic frequency,” or “resonance.” These musical qualities are described using numbers with precise meanings.

If you are a casual listener, you’ve probably never realized that the mathematical properties of music have a significant impact on what you favor in terms of style.

That is where Tech Gnar — the undergraduate winning venture of the 2017 Alltech Innovation Competition — comes into play.

Tech Gnar is an application created by Western Kentucky University (WKU) undergraduate students Taylor Wathen, Zachary Wathen and Blake Knott. The app uses an algorithm to break down songs into numbers and correlate them based on which songs have previously been “liked” by the user. It uses this intelligence to then recommend songs with similar characteristics.

“It’s very hard to argue with math,” said Taylor Wathen.

The WKU team therefore believes Tech Gnar can beat (pun intended!) competitors’ recommendations with more fine-tuned suggestions for the user.

They are now on version number 771 of their app, and it is capable of filtering songs by instrument.

According to Taylor Wathen, Tech Gnar’s next steps include launching the website and mobile app as well as working in partnership with some record companies (mainly from Nashville) to come up with “perfect hit songs.” Furthermore, they plan to strengthen their digital presence through enhancements to their algorithm.

Before you know it, you could be listening to your new favorite artist, tapping your toes to the very beat that recommended it to you.

As the undergraduate winners of the 2017 Alltech Innovation Competition in Kentucky, the WKU Tech Gnar team took home $10,000, the same amount with which Dr. Pearse Lyons founded Alltech in 1980.