Aspen Science Center



he Science of Music is a series of lectures and demonstrations on the science of music; a collaboration between the Aspen Science Center (ASC) and the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS). All programs are at the “enthusiastic novice” level, with no previous knowledge of physics or music theory assumed.

The Science of Music is on Hiatus for 2020

The Science of Music summer performances were a hit! Thank you to all who came to these events.

  • The Science of Acoustical Design In 1900, Symphony Hall in Boston became the first auditorium designed specifically to reflect the scientifically derived principles of acoustics. Using the physics of sound movement, control, and vibration, architects can create a space that produces the rich but clear sound we hear in modern concert halls and auditoriums. Acoustic engineer Dawn Schuette of Threshold Acoustics sits down with architects Harry Teague and Carl Giegold to discuss the science of acoustics and its role in designing buildings and concert halls. Teague designed the AMFS’s Harris Concert Hall and collaborated with Kirkegaard to ensure world-class acoustics in the 2,050-seat Benedict Music Tent.
  • Music and Memory. This program features the performance ofMusics of Memory, a new work by Bruce Adolphe, Composer-in-Residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute (USC), that explores the connection between music and how memory works. Researchers believe that the area of the brain that processes music is closely related to the area that stores memories, which is why hearing a certain song can instantly remind you of past events, locations, people, and even emotions. Following the performance, there will be a discussion of music and memory with Adolphe and neuroscientist Assal Habibi. The piece will be played by a quartet featuring: Andrew Zhou, piano; Bokyun Byun, guitar; Justin Doute, marimba; Adam Phan, harp.
  • The Science of Percussion. Percussion instruments may be our oldest musical instruments, but they have never been the subject of scientific study until recently. Recent studies strive to understand how these instruments vibrate to produce different sounds and how listeners perceive these sounds. Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, speaks to the unique timbres of percussion instruments and the science behind the creation of those sounds. This event continues Science of Music’s series of discussions focused on different musical instruments, the fascinating science underlying them, and a discussion of the quality of various instruments. 

Science of Music is on hiatus for 2020

Past Events and Videos

Harmony and Harmonics, Part II

Building on his very informative discussion from last year, Andy Cohen continues to discuss the physics and math behind music.

Harmony and Harmonics, Part II

Evolution of the Flute and Engineering of the Horn

In this installment of The Science of Music, Nadine Asin describes how the flute evolved into its current form, and John Zirbel explains the intricacies of playing the French Horn. Hosted by AMFS President Alan Fletcher.

Evolution of the Flute and Engineering of the Horn

The Musical Brain Born or Made

In this episode of The Science of Music, Dr. Robert Zatorre discusses the inner workings of the brain, and what happens when you listen to music.Hosted by AMFS President Alan Fletcher.

The Musical Brain: Born or Made?

Harmonics in Music and Science

Alan Fletcher and Andrew Cohen, Professor of Physics at Boston University, introduced the science underlying music: how waves work and how waves forms determine the tone color of different instruments; the ‘harmonic series” and how it affects tuning; acoustics, and more.

Evaluating Musical Instruments

Alan Fletcher interviewed noted violinist Robert McDuffie, in a comparison of the instruments, including Guarneri, Stradivarius, and contemporary violins. Consideration was given to current studies analyzing the properties of great violins, both modern and historic. Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn brought her renowned Stradivarius, known as “The Red Mendelssohn,” which inspired “The Red Violin,” as well as a copy of it made by a modern master. McDuffie and Pitcairn played the various instruments, and led the audience in an appreciation of their differing sounds.

Neuroscience of Music

Music-lovers already know how music can affect the soul, but its impact on the brain may seem like murkier territory. Dr. Robert Zatorre of the Montreal Neurological Institute joined Alan Fletcher for a lecture that revealed the complex relationship between music and our cognitive functions. Zatorre’s research is in the forefront of insight into the mechanism by which music can produce neurological responses. The interview was illustrated with musical examples.

Pianos: How They Work

Perhaps no instrument is as universally beloved as the piano–but what, exactly, goes into creating this magnificent apparatus? Peter Sumner, the AMFS’s head piano technician and master technician for Steinway & Sons, explained the art of piano-making and explained how these instruments make their glorious sound.