What Are Musical Palindromes?

Question: What Are Musical Palindromes?


A palindrome is a word or group of words that when read, either forward or backward, horizontal or vertical, stays the same. Palindromes may also be a group of numbers or other units that can be sequenced and read similarly in different directions. Common grammatical rules such as punctuation and capitalization are ignored when creating palindromes.

Examples of palindromes are:

"Madam I'm Adam."
“A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!”
"Level madam, level!"

In music, composers such as Béla Bartók (5th String Quartet), Alban Berg (Act 3 of Lulu), Guillaume de Machaut (Translated - My end is my beginning and my beginning is my end), Paul Hindemith (Ludus tonalis), Igor Stravinsky (The Owl and the Pussy Cat) and Anton Webern (2nd movement, Opus 21 Symphony) incorporated palindromes to some of their compositions.

A similar term is "crab canon" or "cancrizans", referring to a musical line that is similar to another line only backwards. An example of this is the piece written by JS Bach in his "Musical Offering" wherein the second part plays the same notes as the first part backwards. Look at the music sheet for 2 guitars and listen to a sample of Bach's "Crab Canon".

Playing musical palindromes is a great way to exercise your eyes, fingers and brain. It also helps you become a better sight reader.