A chess music formula

by ChessBase
7/9/2009 – Can a game of chess translate to a music piece? Following a dream in which he played a blindfold game, communicating moves with a guitar, Dionisios Marinos decided to develop a formula to convert the moves of a game into a musical score. In this article he describes his algorithms and shows us a number of examples of chess games set to music.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


A chess music formula

By Dionisios R. Marinos

Chess music is an idea that came to me a few years ago in a dream. I dreamt I was playing a blindfold chess game with a stranger in a room. We were sitting back to back with a chessboard in the middle of the room with no pieces on it. We had a guitar in our laps and it was my move first.

I proceeded to play the notes of my first move on the guitar, then my opponent would do the same. After going pretty far into the game I woke up in a panic and wrote the formula down. It wasn't until recently that I found my notes and decided to recreate that dream using Reason 3.0 Softsynth by Propellerhead.

I have played blind fold chess in real life with success, checkmating my friends who were looking at the board.
My formula for converting moves into notes.

I used the E major scale and put it on the chess board. The E major scale is spelled E F# G# A B C# D# or as some people like to say: do re mi fa so la ti, also known as the Ionian mode. E Ionian = E F# G# A B C# D# .
F# Dorian = F# G# A B C# D# E and so on.

There are four sharps in the key of E Major, F# C# G# D#

# = sharp note
b = flat note

There are seven modes in any Major or minor diatonic scale:

A file = Ionian
B file = Dorian
C file = Phrygian
D file = Lydian
E file = Mixolydian
F file = Aeolian
G file = Locrian
H file = Ionian 8va

The scale E Major Ionian on the chess board looks like this:

8va = 1 octave higher; 8vb = 1 octave lower. The A8 H8 diagonal is middle E. The square A1 = the note E8vb which is E 1 octave lower then middle E. And the square H8 = the note E8va

Using standard coordinates, moves to notes for White = (file8vb, rank to file8vb, rank), e.g. (A1 = E8vb E8vb) (B8 = F#8vb F#8va) (D6 = A8vb F38vb)and so on.

Moves to notes for Black = (file8va, rank to file8va, rank) , e.g. (A8 = E8va E8va) (B8 = F# 8va) and so on. Using standard coordinates such as 1.e2-e4 translates to B8vb C#8vb B8vb E8vb.

When white moves we start our first note on the first rank; when black moves we start our first note on the 8th rank.

1...e7-e5 translates to B8va A8va B8va F#8va. Of course if either side intrudes into the opponents side, the rank note must be dropped or raised an octave accordingly.

In the case of castling I use eight notes, as two pieces are being moved. White castling 0-0, 8vb = (e1-g1-h1-e1) = B, B, D#, D#, E, E, B, B. 0-0-0, 8vb = (e1-c1-a1-d1) = B, B, G#, G#, E, E, A, A. Black castling is the same, but one octave higher, as you can see on the chessboard.

In the case of promotion we simply add the note of the piece being promoted. In other words we get a five-note combination.

Lets say we have a white pawn on f7 and would like to promote it to a bishop. We simply add the note of the starting position of that piece. E.g. f7-f8 = bishop translates to C#8vb B8va C#8vb C#8va C#8vb. If black wants to promote to a queen on B1 we have e.g. B2-B1 = queen, which translates to (F#8va G#8vb F#8va F#8vb A8va) as the starting position for Black’s queen was D8 = A8va A8va.

In the case of en passent we simply use the same formula as any other move.

In my YouTube videos the songs were created in the Reason 3.0 Softsynth program by Propellerhead. I transcribed the move coordinates using my formula and wrote the notes into the reason staff. Once in midi format I can then proceed to augment the sounds and choose whatever instrument I like using Reason 3.0.

This was my first conversion of chess to music using the Marinos formula that converts the moves into notes in midi format. It shows the famous game of Greco in E major.

In my king and pawn ending in E major you will see at the end I could have checkmated on the f7 square, but mated on the h8 square as the notes sounded more pleasing, as well it resolved the song to an end. The pads and voices ringing in the background is the first note of the move coordinates ringing until the next move is made.

This is my third conversion of chess into musical notes. This is another one of my all time favorite chess games.
Paul Morphy vs The Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, Paris in 1858. This time I tried the style of music known as House. Any style of music can be used.

Here is my fourth transcription from chess to musical notes. The game is just amazing!! This time, after transcribing the moves into midi notes, I plugged them into Reason and used the combinator rhythmic sound called Icecream for a cool effect.

This is the fifth video using my musical formula that converts the move coordinates into musical notes. Here I transcribed the first game of the Kasparov vs DeepBlue match from 1997 into midi notes. This time I added some rhythmic combinators to add to its feeling. I tried to make the Deep Blues moves sound more mechanical then Kasparov's, but I in no way took away from the purity of the formula. In addition the pads ringing in the background are Kasparov's moves in which I used the first note of the file from the piece he has moved. The key is G-Major.

A little about me: I was born in lionsgate, North Vancouver in 1974. Loved music and chess most of my life. Although I am not a master of chess I have studied it on and off for almost 16 years. Me, my wife and my daughter all play chess. I have also studied (on and off) music for 20 years. My main instrument is the guitar. These days I work as a finishing carpenter.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register