The Composer's Algorithmic Assistant: Based on the Schillinger System of Musical Composition

Barry Jones, Pace University


This work introduces a novel computer implementation of the elements of music composition that allows for maximum flexibility in creating music. The representation is derived from Joseph Schillinger’s “The Schillinger System of Musical Composition”, a largely forgotten methodology whose popularity peaked in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Schillinger system is built upon mathematical patterns which are then permuted in various ways to produce an extremely large set of possible musical works encompassing styles that span the range of human cultures across the globe, and the range of human civilization over time. The methods that Schillinger taught at Columbia University and the New School used a mathematical notation and a graphical notation using Cartesian coordinate graph paper. The Composer’s Algorithmic Assistant (CAA) makes this method more accessible by letting the computer do the math allowing the composer to use the system while remaining in an emotive mode that is more conducive to being musically creative. Joseph Schillinger contends that the patterns produced by his system are derived from universal natural patterns. These patterns can be found in music that has withstood the test of time in the sense that it remains powerful and emotive to those who listen to it. Great composers used these patterns even though they may not have been aware of the universal nature of the patterns they employed. This is quite similar to the patterns introduced by Christopher Alexander in the latter half of the twentieth century in the field of architecture. Where Christopher Alexander speaks of “Quality Without A Name” (QWAN), Schillinger speaks of “Universal Patterns” in the same context. The CAA also uses several novel algorithms for matching a composer’s partially completed work to the most appropriate Schillinger patterns so that a composer who is not familiar with the Schillinger techniques can still use the program. The CAA can therefore be used to teach the Schillinger System to music composition students, or simply to show composition students some possibilities that are natural consequences of their works-in-progress.

Subject Area

Music|Computer science

Recommended Citation

Jones, Barry, "The Composer's Algorithmic Assistant: Based on the Schillinger System of Musical Composition" (2011). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3572550.



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