Music and the emergence of experimental science in early modern Europe


  • Penelope Gouk University of Manchester



musical instruments, experiment, acoustics, sound, Scientific Revolution


The seventeenth century witnessed major advances in physics and experimental science. This paper argues that while the role of new visual technologies (e.g. the microscope) has been well studied, less attention has been paid to acoustic technologies in early modern natural philosophy. In particular, I attend to the relationship between making music, a specific form of organised sound mediated through instruments, and the production of new scientific knowledge. On the one hand, this relationship developed in the context of acoustics, a new discipline first mapped out by Francis Bacon. On the other hand, music’s relationship to natural philosophy was also more fundamental, since harmony was understood as an organising principle of the universe, the laws of musical strings providing a model for other forms of vibrative motion. I also show the importance of musical training for Galileo’s experiments and the significance of harmony for Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.

Author Biography

Penelope Gouk, University of Manchester

Honorary Research Fellow

School of Arts, Histories and Cultures

University of Manchester




How to Cite

Gouk, P. (2012). Music and the emergence of experimental science in early modern Europe. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 2(1), 5–21.