Jimmy Heath and the Schillinger System

Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz

“During the 70’s Heath began to pursue writing intensely. He learned the Schillinger System of Musical Composition from one of its prominent adherents, Rudolf Schramm”I became one of Rudy’s students,” “It was all about a numerical system that helped me find all kinds of different chord sequence you might not think of intuitively on your own. I with him at Carnegie artist studio and studied with him for two years, as a result I wrote my first extended piece,  an Afro-American suite of evolution [1973], with African percussion, a big band, strings and a choir he took me to the next step.”

Downbeat May 2014

In the Beginning there was Rhythm

“Begin with the End in Mind”

 Stephen Covey

In music that beginning is Rhythm.

In this series of posts, we will explore the science of rhythm.  We will discover where science and mathematics meet music.

Where is the Science of Traditional Music Theory

It is hard to believe that you can find many articles, YouTube and Ted Talks videos exclaiming the connection between science/math and music. Sound is scientific, it is governed by the law of physics. Sound can be measured in many different ways frequency (pitch), amplitude (loudness), and timbre (tone color/wave shape).  Why is this fact so amazing?

The reason is the notation system that is used was devised in the 16th Century.

Why Traditional  Music Notation has Prevented Further development of Music Styles.

The scientific process must use a systematic form of notation so that theories can be continually tested and proven and expanded. Traditional music notation is not and has never been a scientific process. It was developed over the years by trial and error. Traditional musical notation has been a source of confusion because of its non-scientific process which has lead to stifling music development.

Traditional music notation influences the way music is written. It is biased toward certain rhythm families and virtually non-existent for others. Traditional notation is efficient for rhythms of 2, 4, 8 or 3, 6, and 9, however, limitations arise with rhythms of 5, 7 and 10.
Confusion begins in the early music learning process because of this non-scientific logic, for example, the symbols we use to represent note durations are given qualitative names such as quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes etc.. and they are not a quarter, half or eighth of anything. It would have been easier to name these notes Fred or  Margaret, at least we would think they had any mathematical value.

Let’s Simplify

What do we need to do to measure rhythm?

Reduce it to its lowest common denominator. Instead of giving note values confusing mathematical names like quarter, half, and eighth lets say that the fastest duration is 1.

Here is the terminology:


t = 1      where   1 = 1/8 note  

(1 is the fastest duration it could be 1/4,  1/16 etc..)

T = measure /bar

t = 1          1 equals 1/8 note

   T = 6      1 measure equals 6 (1/8) notes

           2      1      1       2

T = (2 + 1 + 1 + 2)


Next, we will look at how we organize rhythms in Style Families