Music for the Eyes


Renaissance architects saw a clear connection between music and design. They equated proportions with musical notes and often said pleasing proportions were music for the eyes. There’s a rich legacy of this musical/proportional connection going back to ancient Greece, yet to my thinking there’s something more profound lurking beneath the surface.


The ability to imagine is a huge step, possibly the biggest step on your design journey. In fact the question I’m asked frequently is – Can you really teach design? I’m not sure,  but I am certain you can make giant strides in your ability to see. And in the case of woodworking where the tool to visualize (dividers) is also the tool to execute layouts, visualizing becomes intuitive. But here’s where the music comes in. How many times have you heard an annoying song on the radio (“Lydia the Tattooed Lady” by the Marx brothers comes to mind) that you just couldn’t shake from your head?

What’s that have to do with design or visualization? It illustrates our innate ability to visualize. You don’t have to be a musician to have good or bad music playing in your head, though I believe musicians can hear internal sound with more detail. The point is we all routinely visualize music with hardly a thought.

Then why is it we struggle to visualize designs and proportions? Jim Tolpin and I are convinced that we visualize music not because we learned to write notes in grade school but because we fell asleep to a lullabye while still in the crib and took up song before we could talk. The notes were imprinted.

We don’t imagine objects in space because we never imprinted visual notes. With one voice the historical design books emphasized proportions and charged the aspiring designer to draw standards like the classic orders. This has little to do with building furniture fit for the Parthenon and everything to do with learning to make music with proportions. Welcome to the new /old/classic/contemporary way of making music with proportions.

Here’s how – By Hand and Eye

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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1 Response to Music for the Eyes

  1. Mark Dorman says:

    Ordered mine yesterday.

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