Pi is Random. Stop Trying to Turn it into Music.

I have seen and heard several attempts at turning the digits of Pi into music.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 9.33.19 AM

The highly-flourished music in this YouTube video is well-crafted. But I agree with the way one comment sums it up…

“So basically we’ve learned that any random sequence of numbers will sound reasonably pleasant if interpreted as notes in a major scale…”.

Yes. It is oh so convenient that the digits 1 through 8 can be mapped to the ever-so agreeable, politically-correct notes of the diatonic scale.

Don’t confuse this talented musician’s performance with anything remotely meaningful about the digits of Pi. Because……

Pi is INDISTINGUISHABLE from a sequence of random numbers. Extensive statistical analyses of the first six billion digits have been done to try to find tendencies, frequencies, repetitions, ANYTHING that constitutes a feature or a pattern.



Perhaps there is something in this apparently-random sequence that will someday reveal the existence of an alien intelligence. Yea, right.

Here is Vi Hart’s reaction to some of this musical Pi insanity…

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.14.19 AM

At least Jim Zamerski has the sense to consider that Pi can be expressed in other bases than 10, for making music. But again, regarding the use of Pi as the raw input into this musical treatment, how much musical content is there?


Personally, I would love to hear the results of a search algorithm that finds segments of Pi that come close to mimicking a famous melody. I have no doubt that “Happy Birthday To You” … using the digit 0 to represent a rest, and the digits 1 through 8 to represent the notes G3 through G4 in the C-major scale … can be found somewhere in Pi.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.28.56 AM

Just for fun, I figured out what those digits would be. Here they are:


Sure, it might require wading through billions of digits using a special-purpose pattern-finding algorithm to get statistically close to this exact sequence. But at least the musician would have done some work. And it would be just as original.

What about “Pi Art”?

links-pi-cristianIt’s beautiful.

But meaningless. The digits of Pi are statistically no different than a random sequence of digits. Why not use the golden mean, or e, or the square root of 2? The digits in these irrational numbers are just as meaningless as Pi.

I submit that the best way to get creative over Pi is to think about its real meaning: Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. This ratio shows up in some interesting, and sometimes unexpected, situations – like Buffon’s needle:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 10.53.28 AM

I will close with a simple, elegant expression of Pi. It may not be beautiful, but it says it all.



6 thoughts on “Pi is Random. Stop Trying to Turn it into Music.

  1. I love your last picture. This is art.

    That said, I don’t understand why you think PI shouldn’t be turned into music, pictures, whatever, on the grounds that it is random? Why shouldn’t randomness be used as a base for art? On the contrary, I think chance and randomness can be very inspiring. First thing that comes to my mind is John Cage, the famous composer who used all sorts of random events to create great music. However, I totally agree with you that the major scale is boring.

    So here is John Cage, talking about music, and why he thinks traffic noise is more interesting than music by Mozart: http://unspokencinema.blogspot.de/2010/09/sound-is-just-sound-john-cage.html

    • Good point Jacob.

      I agree that chance can be used to great effect in art and music, and John Cage’s music is a great example. But the randomness from traffic or other environmental events has a certain kind of meaning and a dynamic that comes from technology doing its job or nature living out its many lives. That is a rich sort of randomness (actually, chaos) that originates from real life.

      A mathematical random sequence (as in the digits of Pi) is devoid of meaning from human and earthly origins. Many would argue that there is a deep cosmic meaning behind the digits of Pi. Sure, the origins may be cosmic, but this is not meaningful to mortal humans.

      Thanks for the comment :)

      • Sorry, late reply. It just crossed my mind that John Cage insisted that there was neither purpose nor meaning in any of his works. Actually the meaning of his entire work can be seen in the message that there is no meaning in music. Thatkis an interesting thought, isn’t it?
        Lots of regards and a very nice week-end.

  2. The Digits of Pi are Meaningless – Nature...Brain...Language...Technology...Design

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