Are pianists good at math? A good pianist understands the concept of timing, rhythm, and progressions—which, in essence, entails a good grasp of mathematical interpolation. But a piano prodigy doesn’t necessarily make a math maven. However, someone with knowledge of analytic geometry might also possess the intellect to become a great pianist.
Try making a vivid image of these two persons inside your mind: Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Can you name any common denominator?
You’re probably thinking that the two of them are both geniuses – but different kinds of geniuses. Perhaps, masters of separate turfs.
To an extent, this may not be necessarily true and the two share more similarities than you think.
The physicist and mathematician Albert Einstein played the violin and would even perform solo recitals for his family and friends – he was even a big Mozart fan! The equally brilliant Mozart, on the other hand, would jot down mathematical equations on the border of his compositions.
Now, you might be wondering: Is there any link between your skills in music (piano in this case) and in math?
Before we can answer this, we need to get a grasp on “the Mozart Effect.”
The Mozart Effect
It has been suggested that immersing in classical compositions improves spatial skills, listening capabilities, and perhaps even the totality of intellectual capacity. However, the truth is murkier when it comes to today’s research-derived statistics. Is there such a thing as “The Mozart Effect”?
You’ve almost certainly heard of this concept in the past.
The idea that listening to Mozart’s music will help you ace an IQ test – or at least specific parts of it – is referred to as the Mozart Effect. In layman’s terms, it was stated that spending time sulking to your favorite sonata before taking a test can have short-term positive effects on certain testing abilities (talk about life-saver).
In 1993, a study conducted by researchers from the University of California in Irvine tried to back this notion up.
The initial Mozart effect research was kind of contentious. Individuals were given 10 minutes to pay heed to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos. A control listened to either quiet or relaxing audio during this time.
The results revealed an improvement in the performance of specific mental activities that lasted no more than 15 minutes. Solving mazes and folding puzzles are two of these abilities (basically your spatial skills). To display supporting numbers, after listening to the said music, the average IQ scores (for the spatial segment) became 8 to 9 points higher.
However, these figures were erroneously sensationalized by media outlets.
Following the “success” of these results, a huge number of parents began playing Mozart to their kids. These assertions sparked a commercial craze, with Mozart records being marketed to parents and even money being set aside by the US government to provide classical music CDs in schools.
More advanced research throughout time found that the Mozart Effect is most likely merely an artifact of elevated stimulation and emotion. There is currently minimal proof that listening to classical music improves spatial cognition.
Despite this, a lot of doors remain open.
Such a notion raises the prospect that learning to play an instrument (such as the piano) might help you improve your mathematical skills marginally.
Is this accurate?
Piano, Math, and Rhythm: The Correlation
Math and music are much more interlinked than you think.
According to a study performed by Scientific American, musicians are more likely to have an above-average understanding of math. Why is this so? Well, music is just mathematical. Concepts such as sequencing, patterning, and spatial reasoning are well incorporated in elements such as rhythm, melody, and tempo.
You’d be surprised at how trigonometry and differential calculus can be applied in musical composition. In fact, abstract algebra is a staple in musical theory (you might be interested in apps that can help you better understand this). Mathematical models, to a degree, can also help us understand why instruments sound as such – and how we can enhance them!
A better avenue to understand the link between math and music is the piano.
Since grade school, math teachers would’ve probably delved a bit on patterns in simple ways such as predicting the next shape in a shown sequence. If you’ve ever tried writing songs or composing melodies on the piano, something might already be clicking.
A great understanding of arithmetic concepts can drastically ease the process of identifying time signatures and rhythm. How is this better applied in the piano? The keys in the instrument complement mathematical functions.
If you “number” your piano keys, the distance between C (labeled 1st) and G (labeled 5th) is called a “fifth” both in arithmetic sequencing and in music theory. Numerical labeling can also be a great help to kids trying to learn math. Producing a higher note would be associated with bigger numbers vice versa.
The concept of interpolation can also be honed in the piano – the concept of minor keys can put kids in a situation where they would have to make more inferences based on the information available to them.
Indeed, learning to play the piano can be a great math exercise. But still, we need to understand that causation is not necessarily a correlation.
It is true that several studies observed that if a person is good in math, chances are, they can play the piano as well. But we cannot necessarily say that being a math wizard causes you to become a piano prodigy or vice versa.
Maybe, it just so happens that people with brains that can handle analytic geometry would also have the intellect to understand how the piano works.
Also, one cannot set aside possible confounders. Maybe people who have to commitment, dedication, and focus to play an instrument would be able to apply the exact sample values in solving math problems.
Still, we cannot deny the fact that the piano can be a great gateway to introducing basic mathematical concepts (especially for kids). And conversely, a good understanding of numbers can make musical patterns in pianos much easier to execute.
Here’s a great video illustrating this topic:
Math and music – it’s quite peculiar how two seemingly different worlds collide.
From going over the facts and data (with a slight hover over the Mozart effect), we’ve come into terms that extended listening to music may help slightly boost cognition. But, playing music offers greater positive outcomes.
Performing (particularly with a piano) helps you appreciate math and arithmetic more by understanding timing, rhythm, and progressions.
But most importantly, learning to play any instrument teaches you commitment, discipline, and focus – which are much needed when solving complex math problems.
However, we should never rule out the possibility that learning instruments do not necessarily cause improvements in math. There are a lot of factors at play, but still, music is an amazing gateway.
In the end, there is so much to it that makes an Einstein. Trying new things to help you get on top of that podium won’t hurt.
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.