The Complexity of the Musical Vocabulary of the Nzakara Harpists

Barbra Gregory
Renaissance Banff: Mathematics, Music, Art, Culture (2005)
Pages 143–148


We present a new method for evaluating the complexity of music. We explore this method as it applies to the Nzakara harpists of Central Africa. In particular, the movement of the harpist’s hands is measured for short, repeated patterns. Longer harp patterns are then compared to shorter patterns to determine a measure of the difficulty level of the piece based upon the amount the player’s hands must move. Following explanation of the structure of the patterns, the method of measuring complexity is described. We then give a table of measurements for various harp patterns, some of which fit the grammatical rules of the Nzakara and some of which do not. We give an evaluation of some of these results and discuss the difficulty of achieving a whole picture of the difficulty or complexity of a musical structure.