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The Legend of the Blacksmith Shop

A central tale of Pythagoras, told throughout the Millennia throughout European culture and still relevant today as a "teaching story," is the legend of Pythagoras and the Blacksmith Shop. This tale taught the fundamental ratios that become the foundation of all musical theory. Here is a basic summary of the blacksmith tale:

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According to Iamblichus, the fourth-century scholar who wrote nine books about the Pythagorean sect, Pythagoras happened to walk past the forge of a blacksmith and listened to the hammers pounding iron and producing a variegated harmony of reverberations between them, except for one combination of sounds. He immediately ran into the forge to investigate the harmony of the hammers.

He noticed that most of the hammers could be struck simultaneously to generate a harmonious sound, whereas any combination containing one particular hammer always generated an unpleasant noise.

He analyzed the hammers and realized that those that were harmonious with each other had a simple mathematical relationship -their masses were simple ratios or fractions of each other. That is to say that hammers half, two-thirds, or three-quarters the weight of a particular hammer would all generate harmonious sounds. On the other hand, the hammer that was generating disharmony when struck along with any of the other hammers had a weight that bore no simple relationship to the other weights.

The tale of the blacksmith shop is completely legendary. Indeed, the father of Galileo Galilei actually disproved that this could have occurred in the real world – given the inharmonious nature of vibrating metal objects. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful teaching story that has lasted the ages!

The legend continues that Pythagoras (good scientist, he) went on to experiment with volumes of liquid in glass, with the length of various pipes, and, most importantly, with the length of strings as measured on a monochord (a stringed instrument, said to be of Pythagoras' invention, where a movable bridge allowed for the precise measurement of musical ratios).

Through these experiments, Pythagoras determined what much of antiquity had long understood: tones based on low-integer relationships produce harmonious sounds that are easy on the ear and pleasant to the soul.

Pythagoras thought of himself primarily as a healer and he used music as a remedy for all manner of sickness, mental and spiritual as well as physical.

(Source: legacy.earlham.edu)

Though it may sound like pseudoscience to some, we in Pythagoras audio have a strong belief on the healing power of music.

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