15th October is World Maths Day!
This is how most of us feel during a math test.
But math isn’t all scary equations and divisions. Math and music, for instance, have been intertwined all the way back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras in the 6th century BCE. Pythagoras was inspired to study music by hearing a blacksmith’s hammer hitting an anvil and noticing that it made different notes depending on where it hit. He figured out that music was built on mathematical ratios and began the study of harmony. Since his time, many musicians have also studied mathematics – in many ways it’s the foundation of all the music we hear today. You can even do a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Music at the University of Edinburgh.
Usually the mathematical parts of music aren’t picked up by an untrained ear, but sometimes musicians make it more obvious. For example, Johnny Buckland from Coldplay has a degree in Mathematics and Coldplay songs frequently feature math themes, like Twisted Logic, Square One, Proof, Major Minus and 42.
Modern classical composer, Philip Glass, wrote an entire opera based on math: Einstein on the Beach. Whole sections of the opera are based on numbers and counting. And American avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson frequently uses math themes in her work, such as the song “Let X=X“ on her album Big Science.
Musicians who have a mathematics and music degree include:
- Brian May (Queen) – PhD in Astrophysics and degrees in mathematics, Imperial College London
- Dan Snaith (Caribou) – PhD Mathematics, Imperial College London
- Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel) – Masters in Mathematics, Columbia University
- Johnny Buckland (Coldplay) – degree in Mathematics, University College London.
- Gregg Turner (Angry Samoans) – Mathematics, Claremont Graduate University (currently teaches at New Mexico Highlands University)
- Ethan Port (Savage Republic) – Mathematics, University of Southern California
- Phil Alvin (The Blasters) – Mathematics, University of California, Los Angeles
Mathematics and Music: How Are They Related?
Let’s take a deep dive into the role of math in music. Research suggests that music activates the same parts of the brain used for solving spatial-temporal reasoning problems. The two hemispheres of the brain process certain sound patterns and frequencies differently. So, we can assume that specific types of music may generate a stronger response in one hemisphere than the other.
For this reason, listening to music that can stimulate the left hemisphere, the side responsible for solving arithmetic problems, may lead to an increase in cognition and the ability to learn math skills. This is supported by a 2012 study, which revealed that listening to music during a math test may lead to a 40% improvement in a child’s performance.
The ‘Mozart Effect’
The ‘Mozart Effect’ theory was first coined in 1993 by university professors Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Catherine Ky. According to this theory, listening to Mozart or certain classical music pieces may improve spatial reasoning responsible for mental activities like solving puzzles and origami. They proved their thesis using the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major.
Despite the theory’s popularity, the subject remains a point of debate to this day. But hey, trying it out and listening to some classical music while studying or working won’t hurt.
Browse our extensive list of classical music pieces on the Deezer app. Here’s a well-curated Mozart playlist to get you started.