Measuring the Musical Vocabulary of the Traditional Nzakara Harpists

Barbra Gregory
Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science (2004)
Pages 339–340


There are few musicians left who can play the traditional harp patterns of the Nzakara people of Central Africa. Building upon the musical research of Eric de Dampierre and others, Marc Chemillier has recently provided mathematical analysis of the few harp patterns still played. The harp tunes are made up of two parallel melodic lines, the lower line different from the upper by only a pitch translation and a time delay. Chemillier, however, found that not only do the two melodic lines share this canon-like relationship, but within the harpists' pieces is a cyclical ladder property as well [1]. It is this property which we discuss here.