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News from Mathnasium of Central Park

Viva La Musica and Math!

Jun 30, 2019

When you think of music, you might think of something that you dance to, workout to, relax to – something that makes you feel good whether listening in your house, through your head phones or at a concert. Music has something for everyone. When you listen to music what you might not think about, is how you’re actually listening to math and the amazing ways it makes music sound, well, like music and not just noise. 

Math can be viewed as the structure of music, therefore, having numerical fluency; understanding the relationship with numbers have to one another and linking patterns, help us understand how music is put together. Let’s go into more depth about some of ways music needs math. 

  1. Reading Music

As mentioned above, musicians look at sheets of music as a bunch of symbols that give them beta about how something should be played. One of the best ways math is used when initially looking at music is through something called measures. Music is divided in sections called measures and each measure has an equal number of beats or counts in it. Measures are then mathematical divisions of time, with beats being smaller mathematical divisions of time. Measures also contain notes and rests in them. Notes look like a filled in ovals, or open ovals, either of which can have a sticks with a flags hanging off of them or can be connected to each other with several sticks. They indicate when music is to be played. Rests look almost like birds flying sideways. They indicate when to take a break from playing. 

Each piece of music also has a time signature. This gives information about how the piece should rhythmically be played. The time signature is what determines how many beats should be played in each measure. Time signatures look like fractions with one number on top of another and a divider between them. Musicians then must understand the value of the time signatures and notes in order to correctly count the music they’re playing. Without having these measures, time signatures or beats holding different time values, music would either be really boring or it would just sound like noise. 

  1. Sound frequency and pitch

Different sounds are made from different weights and vibrations. A high frequency vibration is a high-pitched sound. Think of a fire alarm or squealing child. Some pitches are so high that we can’t hear them, say, for instance a really high-pitched whistle. Other animals, like dogs, can often hear much higher frequencies than humans. Low frequency vibration sounds more like a growl or base in car audio system. Sometimes low vibrations can be felt. All sound frequencies are measured by something called a hertz, which is a measurement of vibrations by second. If something is 10 hertz, it means the frequency is cycling 10 times per second. 

Pitch, which is a part of sound vibrations humans can hear, is something also very important to music. Everything from a guitar to a flute has pitch and whether you’re singing along to Ariana Grande in the shower or you’re reading the sheet music for the stringed version of Viva La Vida by Cold Play, pitch is playing the part of giving sound to notes. In all music there are pitches attached to notes, which requires a certain ear to be able to hear. While nearly everyone can hear the difference between pitches of notes in songs they listen to, not everyone can achieve those notes by singing or playing them. For more about how math, frequency and pitch are related read here!

  1. Patterns

Perhaps the closest relationship between music and math is that they both heavily rely on patterns. Measures and time signatures are already two ways music is guaranteed to have pattern, but there are more ways music repeats itself. Take the song “I’m in Love with the Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran. There are 5 different chorus repeats in the song, where the same lyrics, beat and notes are repeated, which is part what makes it so catchy. When songs have predictable elements in them that people can sing along with, it makes them, well, popular. Hence, pop songs. Love them or hate them, they have a formula for pattern in their redundancy that make many people like them. Regardless, math uses patterns to explain conclusions and predict the unknown and if one approaches music from a math perspective, music can be explored and explained by using trigonometry, geometry and calculus. 

From classical to metal, music has math carrying every one of its notes. They are greatly interconnected and it would be impossible to separate math from music and still call it music. Bringing music lessons into your child’s life could have a very positive effect on their math understanding. Encouraging your student to take up learning an instrument or start singing in a local choir could help them find the discipline it takes to be a mathematician or a musician and it could fuel a lifelong passion.