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Classical Music, Intelligence, and Math Learning

There is much debate surrounding whether or not listening to classical music affects intelligence (read the Science Daily’s pro take and the Skeptic’s Dictionary’s con.)

Official studies aside, I personally believe the connection with music is not only to intelligence, but also to math. Especially for those who play(ed) instruments.

OK, so I don’t know if Madonna aced the math portion of her SATs, if Ozzy Osbourne can do long division in his head, or if Itzhak Perlman is a wiz at calculus. However, in my career, I have been privileged to work with some extraordinary people. And when the topic of music comes up, I often hear that these people not only listened to classical music, they played it. In fact, during my most recent conversation on this topic, I learned that one of the DreamBox programmers whom I admire played in a professional symphony at 16!

The Connection Between Music and Math Learning

There are some direct connections between playing music and doing math. Especially when reading musical notation. For example, the math involved in understanding the duration of each note (ex: a full note is played twice as long as a half note which is played twice as long as a quarter note, etc.). And understanding the fractional time signature in musical notation, where the top number is how many beats are in a measure and the bottom number is the type of note that gets one beat (Ex: 6/8 means there are 6 beats in a measure and an eighth note gets one beat). Yeah, maybe I didn’t understand all the nuances of time signatures when I started violin in 3rd grade. But eventually I learned all that.

Boy using violin for music learning skills

There are also less obvious connections between music and math. Like learning that certain chords sound good together, or sound happy or sad. And learning to memorize how to play a song by remembering the written notes, specific physical movements to make with the instrument or body, and/or the actual musical progression.

No matter what the connection is between music and math, I loved playing music while I was growing up. And even though I hated to practice my violin and I still sounded like Frankenstein after playing for years, I appreciate all that music gave to me. I believe that I got a strong foundation which made mathematical and scientific concepts easier to grasp. I got an appreciation for various cultural arts and the skills needed to be good at them. I got the ability to listen to a song and say, “Hey, I played that!” And I got lifelong friends (and co-workers) who share an appreciation for the connection between music and math.

That reminds me, one time, at band camp… Arrowbear Music Camp was the place that kept me playing and practicing year after year. But I’ll save that for another post!

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