Science, Math and Music
If you read my other blogs, or my bio on my Home Page (nickdrozdoff.com), you’ll know that I led a dual career lifestyle for over 25 years. I taught physics and advanced placement physics (both B and C) in high school. On top of that I maintained a full time music career as well, practicing several hours a day and playing over 100 gigs per year. I have a BS in electrical engineering and masters in classical trumpet performance and masters in physics/teaching.
I am not particularly special in this regard, other than, perhaps, being very persistent in my work.
I would certainly argue that I should NOT be particularly unique. In fact, math, science and music mix. This should not be all that surprising.
Mathematicians work with all sorts of extremely complex alphanumeric coding and organized thinking. While the structure of the coding is a little different, musicians use the same sort of thinking. Scientists use that same math to elaborate or extend higher concepts of nature to develop laws and ideas that can make the world a better place. Musicians use their related theory to produce aural structures that make the world a more beautiful place. In my humble opinion, the parallels are undeniable.
Many of you will have heard of the Mozart effect – the idea that immersing kids in listening to classical music makes them smarter. Mozart has his name attached to this idea by virtue of his incredibly youthful success. In any case, it is hard to say that simply LISTENING to classical music would make you smarter. However, studying it and practicing it could do just that.
In an article in the Washington Post, the idea that practicing music improves skills in other areas, in this case, verbal intelligence.
In an article titled “How Musical Training Affects Cognitive Development:” they conclude with the following position;
“Therefore, we conclude that musical education starting already early in childhood offers the opportunity to tune and train the brain for important cognitive and possibly also social functions. Furthermore, it provides the child with techniques and foundations, which will probably serve as a benefit for the entire lifetime; not to mention that having learned to play an instrument in childhood may be a great source of pleasure later on in life.”
This is a very thorough article written for a scientific journal, but if you’d like to read the entire article, here is the link.
Another brief online article concludes thus:
“While further research will be needed to explain the specific brain mechanisms reflected in these results, they reinforce what the researchers call “the beneficial effects of music education of children at primary schools and, possibly, preschools, in terms of their cognitive development in general, and language acquisition in particular."
Given this evidence, cutting music classes to concentrate on "basics" such as building vocabulary seems counterproductive.”
Here is a link to that article.
Here is another interesting little article.
There are many, many more pieces such as this that you can find online. Simply do a Google search on this string: evidence that the study of music improves skills in science. You could then substitute the word math instead of science and find more interesting results.
From personal experience I can say with confidence the following.
In my most advanced classes, many if not most of my students were involved with music. The kids who were really good in math and science were also good at music – some approaching virtuoso levels.
There is a side bar to this, that I loved being a witness to. I had many students take physics from me who were in music or arts programs. Many of them thought they couldn’t be good at a difficult course such as physics. As a teacher I always took a very nurturing position with my students – more like a friendly, slightly eccentric uncle who loved them as family and wanted to help them achieve at physics. I also made the point that BECAUSE they were good at music, they were fundamentally capable of being good at physics.
This position helped them get over their fear (fear being the single largest deterrent to success in any area of endeavor) and virtually all of them did well. This was one of the most gratifying parts of my experience a high school physics teacher.
This brings me to a more difficult part of this blog to address: the tendency of school systems diminishing the importance of the study of music in schools. When budgets get cut, the first place schools look to pare things down is the music department and the arts in general. This is incredibly short sighted.
No kid has ever sustained a life threatening injury playing the flute or piano or learning to do oil painting. Furthermore, if you read the many articles referred to, it can be argued that these kids are better positioned for success in so called “fundamental” studies – reading, writing and arithmetic, so to speak.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that sports should be cut in lieu of music in the face of school budget crisis. I ran cross country and track and even earned a state gold metal and I would not want to have missed that chance. I do believe that school administrations are notoriously top heavy and often redundant (not to mention, expensive) and that schools ought to be looking there, first, for their cuts as opposed to learning opportunities for their kids.
With this lengthy premise, I want to revisit something I did in an effort to help a music teacher who came to for support when his school system had openly put the music program in their entire system on the chopping block in the face of monetary challenges. I wrote a lengthy article/letter for him addressing the issues mentioned above. This was a while ago, and the online resources were a little thinner back then, but I was able to point the administration in the right direction.
In addition to this, I prepared two lists. One was a list of major scientists who were also musicians. Then I prepared a list of major musicians who were also good at math/science and even economics. Let me attempt to recreate those lists here.
SCIENTISTS WHO WERE MUSICIANS:
Albert Einstein- violinist - pianist
Edward Teller – pianist
Robert Oppenheimer – pianist
Albert Schweitzer – organist
Alan Greenspan – former Julliard student – saxophone – played with Woody Herman at one point!
Richard Feynman – percussionist
George Antheil – composer
Isaac Newton – flute
Thomas Edison – Piano
Bill Gates – trombone
Steve Wozniak – Guitar
Ben Franklin – developed musical instruments
Galileo – from a musical family – an accomplished lutenist
Pythagoras – ‘nuff said!
This is only a few, and these are people involved with math, science or economics. If you do some more research, you’ll find that many extremely successful people in other areas also studied music.
MUSICIANS WHO STUDIED SCIENCE OR MATH:
Adolph Herseth, former principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony (a position he held for over 50 years) had a degree in mathematics.
Charles Kavalovski – former principal horn with the Boston Symphony – has a PhD in nuclear physics
Tchaikovsky – studied mathematics at the Moscow University
Brian May – guitarist from Queen – PhD in Astrophysics
Art Garfunkel – masters in mathematics from Columbia University
Fletcher Henderson – earned a BS in Chemistry and Math before becoming one of the most prolific big band composers and arrangers of the 40’s
Alexander Borodin – composer- doctor – chemist
George Antheil – composer – inventor
Dan Snaith – Caribou – electronic composer – PhD in mathematics
Milton Babbit – composer – studied math
Xenakis – composer - studied architecture
Again, neither of these lists are remotely exhaustive, but they should give some credence to the ideas behind the premise.
So, in conclusion to this weeks’ blog, music programs are incredibly important to any school interested in not only enriching the lives of their students, community and, by default the world by virtue of the art but also by virtue of helping create deeper thinkers across the spectrum of learning in general.
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