During the pandemic, many people have been experiencing anxiety while trying to cope with being shuttered in their homes, without the usual outlets for socialization and entertainment. Interestingly, another trigger for anxiety in a multitude of people is the subject of math. There is a direct correlation between the two and yet music is magical, it is able to sooth our souls, bring wonder back into our life and help us create new memories.
You may wish to listen to one of my favourite violinists and her group, Canadian Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà playing the classical piece I giorni by composer Ludovico Einaudi, while you read on.
Music has always been the backdrop of my life but in the past year and a half, it became my salvation. I listened to music while I worked at home, as I read and cooked and, on my walks to the upbeat message of the local band Arkells, the strong vocals of Alanis Morrisette and the frenetic beat of dance tunes. I also discovered live, virtual concerts being held around the globe, and I signed up for an innumerable amount to enjoy the uplifting sounds of classical music. I have a memory of when I was either 8 or 9, lying on the living room floor, wearing headphones plugged into our stereo (long before Bluetooth was a thing!) singing at the top of my lungs alongside the voice of Diana Ross. I had seen her on a television special, and thought she was the most beautiful and glamorous woman in the world. That’s the thing about music, it has the ability to evoke memories, the joyful and the heartbreaking.
I chuckle recalling an evening when my father came home from work to be greeted by the sound of the artsy, pop-rock band, Talking Heads, playing at full volume as he walked through the door. “Carlyn” he yelled, “turn that racket down!” Even though I was just a kid, any loud music had to be attributed to me in his mind. He couldn’t have been more wrong – both the owner of the album and the guilty party for playing it that night was my mom. My dad does love music but then as now, his tastes run more to country, folk, or gospel music. My mom however, embraced almost all forms of musical expression, it was while learning the piano through the Royal Conservatory program that she began to love and appreciate classical music and she shared that fondness with her daughters. Over the years the music of composers Tchaikovsky and Beethoven among others, have become a constant presence in my life. Not only do I recognize the artistry of classical music but also its benefits such as reduced stress, improved sleeping, better memory and creativity, pain relief and it’s been proven to make you happier, I’m all for that!
Surprisingly, I ended up with one of my mom’s high school teachers many years later in another school, in another town. He was my music teacher but for her, he taught math and he made it very clear that he was not happy about that. Music was his first love and until an opening became available for him, he was relegated to teaching a subject that held little interest for him, and he failed to inspire his students’ interest. I found this curious because music despite all its creativity, emotion, and passion, is based on mathematical relationships. Yet perhaps his angst around teaching math was the fear of looking foolish. When we hold tutoring training workshops, as soon as we discuss teaching math to our students, I often see the same anxiety or apprehension from our volunteer tutors. It’s good to know that the math we are generally teaching is very basic math, providing the fundamentals. Perhaps if we looked at math through the lenses of music, we would be less intimidated.
Let’s talk a bit more about this correlation between music and math. Have you ever taken a dance class and you were instructed to count the beats? Or think back to an occasion when you were at a concert clapping along to the music, keeping time. We often remember facts or ideas when it is put to a rhythm or in a song. Listening to music while studying has shown to improve focus and develop better math skills while understanding math helps when reading music. When writing music, the different sections in a piece of music are called measures and each one has an equal number of beats. The notes and rests in music have a certain amount of beats as well as numerical connections. It is important that a musician is able to count the music correctly by discerning the value of the notes and fractions. Both music and math also use patterns, you see in music the repetition of choruses and verses. Math’s influence can be seen in all types of music whether it is pop, jazz, rock or classical. There has even been research that has found that some pieces of music are more popular because of their mathematical structure. Perhaps it would help to remember that math is all around us. In 1623, astronomer Galilei observed that “the entire universe is written in the language of mathematics”.
Although in theory, music has no absolute rules, math however is made up of certain rules, also known as the order of operations. Currently there is an equation which is appearing on several social media sights, testing our knowledge and memories of those rules. What do you think is the right answer?
2 + 2 x 4 = ?
There are many discussions around how to interpret this equation, the application of theories and rules, and the various answers that people have calculated. To find out more and join in on the fun, click on the link below!