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12-04-2002, 12:33 PM
I have a dgree in math, I work as a computer programmer and I have an interest in music, but almost solely as a listener. I did play drums for a few years as a teenager, but never in band or as part of a group. I can count out a measure of music, but I know nothing of chords or notes or keys.

I have noticed that among my co-workers there are many with an interest in music as well, but to a much stronger degree. Singers, guitarists, pianists, etc. I remember from some concerts I attended at college for a music history class that several of the featured performers had degrees in mathematics as well as music degrees in performance or composition. What's the connection? I was a poor student of mathematics and am not knowledgable enough of music to make that connection on my own.

Is the creativity used to solve arcane theorems the same as is necessary to write or play music? Is logic necessary to compose or play music? The two seem different, yet somehow there is a connection.

Anyone have the straight dope?

Spiff
12-04-2002, 02:04 PM
There are more sublties to it than this, but basically, one is not going to get very far as a musician if one cannot naturally divide up beats into halves, quarters, eighths, etc.

This is the basic beginnings of musical ability, and people who are good at math pick up on this a whole lot faster than those who are not.

Having a logical mind, and one good at deductive and inductive reasoning (problem solving) means one is probably better at the more advanced sort of mathematics, but I don't believe that these skills transfer over to music for the most part.

Just my WAG.

BlackKnight
12-04-2002, 02:13 PM
I am rather good at math, getting a degree in computer science, and don't understand music at all. I don't even like most music at all. I am, however, a bit strange.

dwc1970
12-04-2002, 02:32 PM
I have been using computers since the early 80s and while I am not an expert, I probably know more about using them than the average user. I have always had an inclination towards music. I played the trumpet in band from junior high through high school, plus I have played the guitar and the piano. I have perfect pitch and I can identify any tone I hear by its note. Math was one of my better subjects in school and I have applied mathematical concepts to my understanding of music theory. While all of this is only anecdotal, I seem to fit the profile in which one who is proficient in music is also proficient with using computers and understanding mathematics.

mack
12-04-2002, 03:51 PM
I was awful at math, have a degree in music, and took to computers pretty readily. I wish I could do math like I can do music. Unfortunately for me I did not hit the trifecta.

Anyway, music involves rules, logic, working within systems, interpreting symbols, interpreting groups of symbols, instruction sets, common practices, creativity (whatever that is) and there's a large physical component as well for the player - hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, limb independance and so on. Take away the physical component of playing an instrument and it looks like you may have some of the skills you need for computer programming and/or math. Or at least some of the internal wiring for it.

Definitely not the straight dope but perhaps touches on some similarities.

DarrenS
12-04-2002, 03:55 PM
Check out the book "Goedel Escher Bach" - it is an interesting book, at least if you are passionate about mathematics/logic/music, and touches on the interconnectedness of these fields.

I can't believe that's butter!
12-04-2002, 04:00 PM
I would say that the "drumming"(rhythm, to be accurate) end of music has to do more with the mathematical side than anything.....

h.sapiens
12-04-2002, 04:12 PM
Didn't Einstein play the violin?

lovelyluka
12-04-2002, 04:14 PM
It has a lot to do with whether or not music was introduced as a child. Obviously, the earlier things are introduced, the more they stick with you (hence your talented coworkers). And then there's also all sorts of studies about the effect of music on math scores - search the web, I found gobs of info for a presentation about teaching children music that I gave earlier this year. Basically, there is early mental stimulation (like what Spiff said), but children who establish a musical background also have a kinesthetic advantage over other students. They also have a different approach to learning in general.

As for anecdotal evidence, I'm musical (Dad was a college music professor and band director)...I play many instruments and I have perfect pitch. I got a job in the computer center on campus, and I didn't take math in college because I clepped out and got credit for it. I think there's a connection.

Then again, maybe I'm just a loser geeky [former] band nerd. Hmmmm.....

lovelyluka
12-04-2002, 04:16 PM
Oh, yeah - and my mom has a theory that I type quickly because I play the piano. *shrugs*

crawford
12-04-2002, 06:33 PM
I think that the OP is on to something, and it's a question I've wondered about for a long time. I think there's a lot more to it than the ability to count out eigths, sixteenths, etc.

Back when I was in high school, both music teachers were also brilliant at math. One of the two was a major computer fanatic, who was best buddies with the school's computer science teacher, who was also a great musician. Go figure.

Urban Ranger
12-04-2002, 08:33 PM
Nothing statistically significant yet.

12-04-2002, 08:54 PM
I muddied the water too much in my OP. My real question is the possible connection between math and music. I have a degree in math and I work programming computers. I can make that connection on my own. ;)

Perhaps the creative energy used when writing music could be compared to the "creative" leaps of logic necessary to prove theorems? Is the beauty of a well-constructed proof comparable to the beauty of a piece music?

I have no idea.

ultrafilter
12-04-2002, 11:03 PM
Is the beauty of a well-constructed proof comparable to the beauty of a piece music?

Yes.

And you won't find very many pure mathematicians who disagree with that.

In fact, I'd be surprised if you can find any.

World Eater
12-05-2002, 12:01 AM
I did good in math (not English :D), am an avid computer geek, write, record, and produce music.

It must be true!

BTW I have noticed the correlation.

yosemite
12-05-2002, 12:53 AM
I have a certain innate talent for music. When I was maybe 5 or 6 or something, I looked at my mom's "beginner" music book and figured out the basics of reading music on my own. It was simple.

I took piano lessons for a few years when I was a kid, but it was a forced march all the way. Art was my first love.

Got back into piano in college. Got half-way decent at it, but only half-way. It was never my first love, like art was (and is).

I was told more than a few times that I had a good "touch", meaning, I put feeling into the music—something that doesn't come easily to everyone. It seemed innate to me. I loved the music, I felt it, and people could hear that when I played.

I love computers. I am not a "open the case and tinker around" kind of person, but I love doing a lot of creative and productive things on computers, and have always been that way.

However, I have serious math phobia. SERIOUS. I barely remember my multiplication tables anymore. I am really pathetic. I blame part of this on clueless, impatient or just plain mean math teachers in school. I endured enough torture in math classes and finally had enough. No more math.

I suspect that had I experienced a better math education in school, I wouldn't have the complex I do about math (I might even be OK at it). I don't find it too difficult to do some simple math in my head, and I can always figure out how much to tip a waitress. But figuring out math on paper? It's hyperventilate time.

12-05-2002, 06:04 AM
there are 3 types of musician: those who can do math, and those who can't :D

kitarak
12-05-2002, 06:13 AM
Originally posted by ultrafilter
Yes.

And you won't find very many pure mathematicians who disagree with that.

In fact, I'd be surprised if you can find any.

::raises hand::

I'm a pure mathematician. Well... sortof. (An applied pure mathematician, but that's not really relavant here) and I disagree. I dont think they're comparable at all. They're very different types of beauty. Like comparing the beauty of a sunset and a person; which of course a lot of people do, but I wouldn't.

Actually some people from (I think) the psych department were doing a survey in my maths lectures the other day. One of the things they were investigating was the connection between mathematical and musical ability. Unfortunately I don't know the results.

Morgainelf
12-05-2002, 09:14 AM
Originally posted by lovelyluka
...a presentation about teaching children music that I gave earlier this year.

lovelyluka, would you be willing to share your presentation? I'm in the process of developing a toddler music course. You can e-mail me at d_aguiar@prodigy.net.

jovan
12-05-2002, 10:21 AM
It appears that the link between musical ability and math is spatio-temporal reasoning.

This is the theory that was set forth by Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher, in an article published in Neurological Research in 1997 (among others). What their research found is that children who go through musical education score higher on spatio-temporal tests than those who don't. Those spatio-temporal abilities are related to mathematical problem-solving.

As far as scholarly articles go, this one is pretty infamous. On a few academic ML I subscribe to, almost every year this subject comes up and someone always point to Shaw and Rauscher as proof that music makes kids better in math.

However, as you can read in this Skeptic Dictionary entry (http://skepdic.com/mozart.html), those findings are far from being universally accepted; and it should be noted that there are strong economic and political reason for defending S & R's claims.

It seems, though, fairly safe to say that indeed, both musical and mathematical problems call on similar functions of the cortex. While being good in one certainly doesn't necessarily make you good in the other, there is enough of a correlation that several researchers seriously study that relationship.

For very "pro-music", though serious and scholarly info:
http://www.musica.uci.edu/

12-05-2002, 11:20 AM
there are 3 types of musician: those who can do math, and those who can't

Yes.

And you won't find very many pure mathematicians who disagree with that.

In fact, I'd be surprised if you can find any.

ultrafilter, could you elaborate on your agreement? I've noticed that you are pretty smart at that math stuff. I'd like to hear your opinion and maybe we could change kitarak's (beautiful? :D ) mind.

And thank you, jovan, that's the kind of info I was after.

ultrafilter
12-05-2002, 11:44 AM
I dunno if it's something I can really elaborate on, or that I could change anyone's mind. It really has to do with my view of math and art, and that's not something that I acquired through rational means or careful consideration of evidence.

However, I don't think that kitarak is saying that an elegant proof has no beauty, but rather that it's a different kind of beauty from that possessed by a work of art. I don't know that I can really disagree with that.

But I am surprised that (s)he disagreed, just like I said I would be.

kitarak
12-05-2002, 11:55 AM
Originally posted by ultrafilter
However, I don't think that kitarak is saying that an elegant proof has no beauty, but rather that it's a different kind of beauty from that possessed by a work of art. I don't know that I can really disagree with that.

Exactly. Specifically, mathematical proofs are about things fitting together. Bringing parts of a whole together to give something new. Art is expressive - A perspective on what's already there. Obviously this is a simplification, and not universally true, but it's the basic essence of my opinion.

But I am surprised that (s)he disagreed, just like I said I would be.

I'm male (although it's admittedly hard to guess from the screenname).

Also, I tend to have odd opinions on a lot of subjects, so it's not uncommon for me to be a counterexample to statements like "I'd be surprised if anyone believes X". Well, not a counterexample as you were indeed surprised. More the lemma proving the theorem "Ultrafilter is indeed surprised." :)