Blog, Research, Tips & Tricks

5 Ways Musicians are Like Scientists

Why a musician’s approach to life will help your kids

All my life, I have been fascinated by sound: it’s production, transmission and how it affects our lives.

I love sound – music, language, and nature. I love it so much, that teaching music was a natural choice for me.

That said, I also love science and technology.

As it turns out, I’m not alone.

Whether it was my viola student accepted into Cal-Poly with an engineering major and music minor, or the violin student who liked building drones, the vast majority of my students over the years have had science-minds.

Over my years of teaching, I came to realize that, in fact, most of my violin and viola students were also interested in the sciences.

I have also come to believe that musicians are the engineers of the art world. By and large, we are:

  • analytical and detail-oriented, with a near-obsessive focus on small details.
  • willing to work long hours to achieve a goal.
  • single-minded in our pursuit of perfection.

Can these traits be taken to the extreme? Of course. Like any character trait, we need to learn balance, and to use these traits instead of allowing them to use us.

Musicians must make one change at a time to improve

When musicians polish a piece of music for performance, we work in one area at a time, making one change at a time.

This is very similar to the scientific approach of testing variables. After all – how do you know which change gave you the results you sought, if you change five things at once?

Music is math

We know this – musical notation is filled with fractions, counting, and mental calculations. These are all required to understand the relationship between one note duration and another; and one pitch from another.

Musical training is similar to scientific research

Scientific researchers must set goals they will often not achieve for long periods of time. These goals require a long list of specific steps the researchers will have to take in order to achieve them.

Is music really so different? We set goals, often months and sometimes years ahead of where we are currently. We make lists, plans, and take steps every day to get where we want to go.

Music and scientific development are often solitary.

Practice and research both very lonely. Musicians must practice at home, before we ever set foot in rehearsal; just as scientists must conduct their research independently, for the most part.

If a musician doesn’t practice in between rehearsals, she has let her entire group down, and set everyone back. It’s difficult sometimes to feel motivated to practice, especially with instruments that are so much better together than alone.

It takes a certain amount of fortitude to be a musician – or a scientist because of those long, lonely hours. However, without that practice or independent research, everyone suffers – not just you.

Both science and music require being in front of crowds.

At the end of the practice or research road, musicians and scientists must present their work.

A musician plays in a concert, a scientist publishes a paper; both endure public scrutiny and criticism.

The takeaway

At the end of the day, research itself has shown, and continues to show, that science and music are not mutually exclusive, and that working in one area can help with the other. I loved reading this paper: Arts Foster Scientific Success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi Members; published in the Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology in 2008.

In it, the authors Robert Root-Bernstein, PhD, et al, show that training in the arts, which include music, painting, writing, and other creative pursuits, tends to help foster growth in scientific areas.

Why not help your kids grow in science and life with music?

I teach privately online; but if you’re near the 35W and I20 area of Fort Worth, Texas I would love to see you in my studio! I also give workshops on how to Practice Like a Pro

Contact me to find out more or to schedule a workshop at your school.

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