x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The maths of music

Scientists who claim to have identified the catchiest song ever are wasting time trying to define the magic that is music.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, goes the celebrated lament. The amazing thing about great music is that it defies definition.

But that doesn't seem to stop many from trying. Scientists, who have apparently run out of other research topics, have now published a study that claims We Are The Champions by Queen is the catchiest song ever written.

The song, a favourite at World Cup finals and quiz nights, defeated other contenders such as YMCA by the Village People and The Final Countdown by Europe to claim top spot.

Scientists at Goldsmiths University in London observed thousands of volunteers singing and judged their performances by four elements: "detailed musical phrases, multiple pitch changes in a song's 'hook', male vocalists, and higher male voices making a noticeable vocal effort". Well, we have to agree that Freddie Mercury did make a "noticeable effort".

How such categories relate to impossibly addictive songs like Aretha Franklin's Respect or Rihanna's Umbrella escapes us, but that does not stop the experts from attempting to destroy every last bit of mystery in the creative process of songwriting.

"Every musical hit is reliant on maths, science, engineering and technology," said Dr Daniel Mullensiefen, a musical psychologist.

Suddenly, dancing about architecture doesn't sound so bad after all.