Music, Math and the Mind

Posted by on August 21, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo for the Friends of the Wizard of Ads

Using magnetic-resonance imaging to peek into the inner workings of the human brain, Harvard Medical School recently published a study indicating that certain parts of the brains of musicians grow an average of 7 percent larger than their non-musical peers.

In a simultaneous but unrelated study, researchers from the University of California found that second-graders who took piano lessons scored an average of 27 percent higher on math skills than their non-musical friends. Students who were given the most intensive type of music training (the Kodaly method) had the highest math scores of all.

Prior to these announcements, the fact that Mozart often scribbled algebraic equations alongside his musical compositions was considered only as irrelevant historical trivia. Now scientists are adding two plus two and finding middle C.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

I was listening to Dan Davis last Sunday morning when “click,” the whole thing suddenly made sense. Dan was in the middle of making a much larger point when he casually mentioned that “math is a language like English or French or Chinese, except that it’s much more precise. In the language of math, relationships are expressed with precision and certainty. Math is a language that allows us to communicate concepts that could not possibly be expressed in any other way.”

Spanish and Greek are by no means the same language, but they are in the same family of languages. Due to similar verb conjugation structures, speakers of Greek have an advantage over speakers of English when it comes to learning Spanish.

You’ve already figured it out, right? Music is a language in the same family as math. When proficiency in one is extended, ability in the other is expanded as well.

Now I’m searching for other such pairs of abilities that are connected in the mind. (Why, I’m not really sure, but I will let you know what I find.)

In the process of interviewing many hundreds of English and Literature majors, my senior message development officer, Chris Maddock, noticed that applicants who had majored in Art History were often the most talented writers. (We were, after some investigation, able to figure out why this is so… but that’s a subject for another MMMemo.)

Have you ever suspected a connection between two things that seem, at first glance, to be utterly unconnected? If so, let me know. Right now I’m like a bloodhound sniffing for a scent, anxious to go bounding off into the wild unknown.

Roy H. Williams

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In the CD player – austraLYSIS: Windows In Time – featuring the work of Iannis Xenakis, that brilliant, self-taught composer responsible for the discovery of stochastic form, a controlled-chance musical structure using probability theory. (Not surprisingly, Xenakis is also a brilliant mathematician and a renowned architect.) Would you enjoy listening to this stuff? Probably not. I’m listening only to gain a more visceral understanding of chaotic systems. (I’ll explain more about this in a future MMMemo.)

NOTICE – Sorry, but the June session of Wizard Academy is sold out and few seats remain for July and August as classes are strictly limited to a maximum of 12 students. For more information, contact (512) 295-5700

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