The Playground

The Simply Music blog

There’s Math Behind the Music

Found in: Miscellany & Merriment

For some, mentioning the words music and math in the same sentence just doesn’t fit.  A lot of musicians and students of music would go so far as to say they aren’t great at math.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to let them know that they are much better than they think?
Music n Math-01
Research shows that the study of music makes you smarter, especially at Elementary school level, in reading and math.  I have students who love math, who are very good at reasoning and finding relationships between things.  This is important for musicians.  Arts integration – the idea we can use the arts (painting, music, drama) to teach something else – has always interested me.  A brief example comes to us from Rudolf Steiner: students in the schools he founded learn to draw patterns, straight and curved lines (and discover this is what everything is made up of) before they even learn to write modern lettering.  Music is patterns too.  So when somebody shared a music and math Ted Talk with Simply Music, it got my attention.

It begins with Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician who discovered a²+b²=c². He also discovered that musical notes form a series [C, D, E…] and gave the numbers from which the art of modern tuning derives. He also figured out that it was a good idea to number chords as well as notes, and from this comes the modern numbering of chord symbols. So we have a sound for numbers! Great, right?!

It’s called pi – sound familiar? It comes in advanced math and has something to do with the areas of circles. It’s a magic number – 3.14159 (rounded – nobody knows the exact value as the decimal is limitless).  Music is circular.  For example, the blues cycle, rondo form, the cycle of 5ths – i.e., the way we divide musical scales is highly mathematical and it works.  And, all the time we are working in patterns! In the hands, on the keyboard and in music itself.

If all of this isn’t cool enough, then we have Clayton Cameron.  A world class drummer with a fascination for music and math, he presented this TedTalk about how the likes of hip-hop and jazz rely on it – indeed how all rhythm working relies on it. He calls it A-rhythm-etic and he raps about it in the talk with the audience.  Cameron plays the drums all through his talk and this is the most important part.  You have to know cycles of 4, 6, 8, 3.  The cycles of 4 and 3 are the most common. But as importantly, he tells us how to subdivide these cycles.  So, you need to know decimals.  Sounds rather scary, but this is easy! It’s like this, single [1] is divided up in to smaller parts [.5, .25].  The .5 times two equals a double. .25×4 is the quad we know so well from our music lessons.  It’s that simple!

So you see , it’s all about patterns of numbers. That’s what makes it so cool!  These are the exciting connections between music and math.