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
Twenty years ago, the press had a field day with a small study published by a California researcher, much to the surprise of the author. The public’s imagination was caught by headlines that proclaimed “Listening to Mozart Makes You Smarter,” or “Music Makes You Smart.” An entire industry grew from the idea that listening to music would improve cognitive development in other areas. This past December, the publication of a Harvard study led to headlines such as “Music Doesn’t Make You Smarter After All.” So does it – or doesn’t it? And does it matter? Continue reading