Music, Math, and Science: What’s the Connection?


Around the entire world and within thousands of different cultures, music is an integral part of many lives. The intense emotional connection that human beings experience with music is a force difficult to explain even with science. However, at its core, music is essentially art combined with science and mathematics. Human emotion and intellect are able to express creativity through music, and that music takes the form of sound waves with varying frequencies registering as different notes to our ears. This combination of art, mathematics, and science creates a universal language that transcends all cultures and languages and allows us to connect with every human being on a fundamental level.

Science can explain to us how the physical properties of sound are heard to us as music. All sounds are mechanical waves that propagate through a medium which is generally air or water. These waves each have what’s known as a frequency or number of times the wave completes one cycle within a given time frame. The frequency of a sound wave is audible to us as a pitch or note. Other aspects of a sound wave that help create a musical note are the amplitude of the wave corresponding to the loudness of the note along with the duration of the wave’s movement which tells us how long the note lasts. 
The duration of a musical note is one of the key aspects that make up the rhythm of a piece of music. Rhythm is essentially a mathematical structure given to a set of notes that makes those notes flow together to create a melody. Notes with varying durations along with the empty spaces or rests between the notes are formed together in a pattern. Humans seem to have an innate need for hearing and seeing patterns in the world and we tend to be drawn toward pieces of music with recognizable patterns. Research has even shown that certain songs become more popular based on their mathematical structure, with a repetitive pattern being one part of the formula for a successful song. 
Music and mathematics are connected in more ways than just their relation to each other in structures and patterns. There is a sizable overlap between skills in mathematics and musical skill, and studies have shown that children who play a musical instrument are able to solve more complex mathematical problems than those who do not. Additionally, these children often display greater eye-hand coordination and better spatial-temporal cognition. 
However, the connection between music and spatial-temporal cognition does not only apply to those who play musical instruments. Studies done in the 1990’s showed that the same areas of the brain were active while listening to Mozart and while performing spatial-temporal cognitive tasks such as visualizing a boat then constructing it with Lego bricks. Subjects who listened to Mozart beforehand tended to perform better on the spatial-temporal tasks than subjects who had not been exposed to the music.
Science, mathematics, and music are so intertwined that it is often difficult to determine where each part comes into play. Music as a physical phenomenon can be explained by science and musical structure can be explained with mathematics, but the connections between music, the human brain, and emotion are much more difficult to understand. What we do know is that music has a deep-rooted relationship with the human psyche and that active participation in music can bring about greater spatial-temporal and mathematical skills.

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