Math teachers have often noticed that students who are good in math have studied, or are studying, music. In the past, it was assumed that the kind of discipline necessary to excel in playing a musical instrument would extend to other academic areas, leading to excellence in those areas as well. But some researchers looked at the math-music relationship and wondered if something other than discipline may be involved.
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people have been fascinated with the relationship between music and mathematics. Pythagoras (died 500 B.C.) is considered by some to be the founder of both math and music – famous for his theorum on triangles in mathematics, but also for developing the concept of intervals in music (link from Physics of Music course, George Gibson, University of Connecticut).
The relationship between math and music has been written about by philosophers, poets, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, and others. Currently, there are dozens of books in print on the subject, ranging from historical perspectives to explorations of acoustical, theoretical, physical, or analytical relationships.
Albert Einstein, at or near the top of anyone’s list of “greatest scientists of the twentieth century,” revolutionized science with his theory of relativity. And what did he have to say about this discovery?
The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.*
According to Einstein’s sister, Maja: “After playing piano, he would get up saying There, now I’ve got it. Something in the music would guide his thoughts in new and creative directions.”**
And he told one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, Max Wertheimer (who wrote Productive Thinking, one of the classics about the creative process), that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feelings, and even musical architectures.***
It would be difficult to find a more eloquent advocate for the study of music than Einstein. But all children are not going to be Einsteins, so why study music? Continue reading
You are at a concert and find that you are becoming increasingly tense, uncomfortable, and nervous as the performer experiences several memory lapses. You know by the look on a student’s face as he comes to your studio that he hasn’t practiced during the past week. A stranger smiles at you as you walk down the street and you smile back, suddenly feeling happier. You know when your spouse grabs the grilling tongs while you are enjoying dinner outdoors that he isn’t about to turn the vegetables on the grill, he’s going to throw the tongs at the woodchuck that’s gnawing on a tree in your yard (strange, but true).