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Math at a Concert

math-at-a-concertMusic—it’s probably not the first thing you think of when you think of math. Yet God has hidden order in every sound wave, and math helps us express, utilize, and enjoy that order.

A recent trip to a chamber ensemble left me in awe—not only at the heart-stirring music, but also at how much math applied in an orchestra hall. Here are a few ways math applies:

  • The Music Itself – Harmonics, the arrangement of notes, the arrangement of sections within a piece, the rhythm—math helps us describe and work with the order God placed within sounds.
  • The Instruments – Instruments come in all sorts of shapes and sizes…and math helps us understand the relationship between the shape, size, and sounds produced.
  • The Room – The acoustics in the room make a big difference in how the audience hears the sound. And how can the builders figure out how to build a room with good acoustics? By using math!
  • Recording – Modern technology allows us to record music and enjoy it over and over again. How? By mathematically describing and reproducing sounds, of course.
  • The Business Side – Ticket prices, facility maintenance costs, artists’ schedules—math helps out in multiple ways behind the scenes of a concert.

The list could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. Math helps us both describe the order God placed within sounds and proves useful in making music and sharing it with others! Next time you find yourself staring at a math problem, remember that those apparently meaningless numbers in the textbook really represent real-life quantities and consistencies—such as aspects of music.

P.S. (Added 05/13/15) – I spent the morning researching more details about the harmonics and math in music itself and now really can’t wait to guide students through exploring some aspects of it in Book 2 of Principles of Mathematics: Biblical Worldview Curriculum. (Book 2 is scheduled to come out later this year/early next; Book 1 should ship by the end of the month.) The order God has placed in the very sounds around us is simply amazing!

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