Invisible patterns

how to see soundI like patterns. There’s something mysterious about them—but also something natural and basic. Maybe that’s because we’re surrounded by patterns every day, all the time. Some of them we can see—like railroad tracks, trees lining the street, or the windows in a building.

And other patterns we can hear—like the tick of a clock, the ring of a telephone, or the beat of a drum.

One big reason music is so interesting is that it’s all a bunch of patterns. Regular, repeating rhythms drive a song forward, while musical notes form melodies, scales, and chords. If you’ve ever tapped your foot to the beat of a song or hummed along with a melody, then you know what I mean. Music is patterns.

In fact, musical patterns are so strong that it’s almost like you can see them. As the notes in a song move up and down, they clearly form a pattern. The only question is, “What does the pattern really look like?” Would the notes look like waves of light fading in and out—or would they look more like stars and planets spinning through space?

Or would they look totally different? People have tried to guess, of course. But they usually came back with the same, old answer. “Sound is invisible. So no matter what you do, or how hard you try, you will never see it.” In other words, it’s impossible, so we’re just out of luck.

Because we can’t see sound, playing music can be pretty weird. And, frankly, downright frustrating. With lots of practice, musicians must simply learn to move their hands around to play different notes on their instruments. One move will make one sound, while another move makes another sound … and another move makes another sound, and so on.

But learning music in this way takes a lot of time. And, honestly, way too much patience. In many ways, it’s like trying to play chess blindfolded. You can play the game by making different moves. But without ever seeing what you’re doing, it’s pretty hard to win.

So, then … is that all there is to it? Are we all just out of luck—or is there really a way to see sound? I mean, what about all those patterns? Musical patterns are definitely as real as the layout of a chessboard or any pattern in nature. So what if we could take off the blindfold … what would we see? The truth is, all of those patterns are just sitting there, waiting for us to uncover them. We just need to find out how. And, as it turns out, the answer is simple.

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