Happy Pi Day (3.14)! Are math and music related at all?
Growing up, I would often hear my mom and other piano teachers say “if someone is good at piano/music, he or she must be really good at math!” My college piano professor even said he once considered pursuing mathematics in college. But then, in music school in college, I remember multiple classmates saying “I’m no good at math.” So… which is true? Are musicians naturally good at math?
Simple answer to this is yes and no. Music involves many areas of our brain and a variety of skills, including math and logic, so yes, some musicians find math to be easier. However, there’s no solid research stating that musicians are better at math (Is there a link?). I would provide some examples of famous pianists who struggle with math… but those seem difficult to find!
Whichever way the argument falls, there are definitely commonalities between music and math. In music, rhythm, counting, patterns in music, intervals, harmonies, and so many other aspects use mathematical concepts. When teaching students about counting and rhythm, I love using pie charts to show them the differences and relationships between quarter note, half notes, whole notes. Another way is using fractions to help students understand the relationship between different note values. When it comes to reading music, I point out patterns in the music to help students understand their pieces better.
Here’s an 8-minute video on music, symmetry, and math:
The final conclusion is that music itself is quite mathematical; however, there is not a clear correlation that states all musicians are automatically good mathematicians!
“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.” — Pythagoras
Belinda Juang is a piano teacher who is also involved in the mental health community in San Diego, CA. You can read more about her here.