Lynn Reynolds, Guest Blogger

Everywhere around the world, children thrive in learning both complicated math formulas to Chaconne in D by J.S Bach. Many people are proven to excel in both music and math, suggesting a strong relationship between the two. For example, Albert Einstein was a renowned physicist, but he also was accomplished in the piano and violin. Einstein had claimed that he saw most of his scientific and mathematical ideas as a musician before seeing them as a physics expert. According to the Conversation: “I often live my life in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in music,” Einstein once remarked. This is surprising and astonishing, as there are few parallels between the jubilance of music and how sophisticated math and science can seem. Prodigies like Mozart and Bach consistently used mathematical techniques and structures in their work. Bach’s polyphonic pieces contain much symmetry and mathematical correlation, such as in his “Great” Fugue in G minor.

According to the American Mathematical Society, applications of math in music include rhythm, intervals, patterns, time signatures, pitch, and other elements of music composition. Concepts in physics, a course that explores both science and math, delving into waves and sound, such as the harmonic series — a chronology of the frequency integer multiples of the fundamental (first harmonic) — show evidence in musical notes. In the harmonic series, as the sequence increases from the fundamental to the second harmonic and so on, the period of the harmonic will change accordingly. For example, the period of the fundamental is 1 seconds per wave. ½ seconds per waves will then represent the period of the second wave. In music, if the twelve harmonics are brung down to the same octave, they will be these notes.

This abstraction can also be looked at through on the twelfth root of two. Equaling about 1.059, the common number in music theory represents the frequency ratio in an octave. This number was a great mathematical discovery. Without it, some of the most important musical advancements would not have been made possible. What musicians create would not be possible without the vast knowledge of math today. The harmonic series and the twelfth root of two are extraordinary mathematical discoveries, making the music that we listen to extraordinary.

While there is a clear material connection between math and music, it is highly debated whether the study of music or math will heightens one ability in the other expertise. There are studies that suggest that an active pursuit in music can lead to having higher math scores, but other studies shows that there is no direct relationship between the two. Many musicians are great without any math expertise, and many great mathematicians do not have the best musician abilities either.

The next time you hear or play classical, rock, folk, religious, ceremonial, jazz, opera, pop, or contemporary types of music, think of what mathematics and music have in common and how mathematics is used to create the music you enjoy.