Ace Mathematics with music


Are you confused by numbers? Basic knowledge of classical music is all you need to master them, affirms Radha Prathi

“You can love it or hate it, but you cannot ignore it.”  Yes, the “it” here refers to the subject Mathematics.

Most of us, both children and adults alike, have an impression that Mathematics is an independent subject which can be reckoned with exclusively. But the truth of the matter is that numbers which deal with mathematical operations, formulae, theorems and derivations exist in just about every subject under the sun.

Can we whip out a recipe without mentioning measures and proportions? Can we shop without calculating fractions and decimals? Can we catapult Angry Birds without considering the parabola? Can we mix the right colours for painting or dyeing circumventing the possible permutations and combinations? Can a blue print of a building be drawn without geometrical deliberations? Can we knit a sweater without counting the number of stitches? Can we travel long distances without watching the clock? Can we keep score without knowing basic arithmetic? If your answer to these questions is in the negative, then be certain that no art, trade, or commerce can exist beyond the realms of Mathematics.

More often than not, people tend to overlook the presence of this omnipresent subject because they are simply not attentive. There are many who find it elusive and confusing too. Though it is a well-known fact that regular practice can hone one’s mathematical skills, not many have the privilege of proper guidance or lack patience and dedication to work hard at it. Musicians will agree that  learning music or an instrument is an effective way of garnering the basics of Mathematics. The basis of classical music is shruthi, raga and tala. Raga suggests various combinations of the basic musical notes in the ascending and descending order. Each note in the scale is spaced in different ways to lend its uniqueness to a song.

Musical notes are sung in a scale. The first note, shruthi, decides the range of the scale. It is similar to assuming a value for an unknown number. For instance, if the value of x is one, then the value of 2x will be two, if the value of x is two then the value of 2x becomes four. Also, the scale can vary, but the notes should follow the patterns at the pre-decided intervals of the raga. Any note that swerves from its place will stick out like a sore thumb and make the sound of the song all wrong. Anybody with a sharp ear for music, who can spot the wrong note, is actually pin pointing a mathematical error!

Music to the rescue

The various ragas or tunes are actually permutations and combinations of the basic seven notes which have subtle variations. It is Mathematics which leads to creativity in the world of music.

The factor of tala, or beat, represents time. Musical notes and lyrics are bound by the concept of tala. The speed of the music can halve, double or multiply, but tala is usually placed at the right time, at a steady pace.  For instance, if six beats form one unit of tala, then one can use three, twelve or twenty four beats within the same unit of time. If the beats are covered before time or miss the right second, then the song will simply go off beat, off track and off key!

These are but a few pointers to what the initiation into the world of music can do to one’s mathematical skills. Children and adults who complain of an allergy towards numbers should try to learn classical music or, for that matter, any form of art and sports and they will find themselves sharpening their arithmetic acumen. Guaranteed.

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