Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Engineering and Music


Recommended Posts

I've been here at college for about 2 months now, and I'm starting to realize something. My intended major and surrounding fields aren't giving me the satisfaction I want. I'm being more drawn to physics (which I loved in high school) and calculus. These seem to be the areas where I am most comfortable working in. It's almost the same happiness I have when I play my violin. I've been noticing that a lot of people here are Engineers and physicists, with Andrew Victor being the one that sticks out most in my mind. Is there some sort of cranial connection that music and science make? Also, what types of engineering would apply the most physics, and would relate most to music.

I must say that it is nice to finally get back to this board. I haven't had a chance to post at all lately because of the EXTREME courseload here. I look foward to your responses.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting post.

I, too, loved both physics and (all) mathematics and earned a degree in engineering (but abandoned it as a career option early on. Studied violin from age seven and have always had the ability to play anything I could hum.

I really don't know if a correlation exists in those centers of the brain that control these aptitudes but it certainly seems possible.

I do however believe that a definite correlation exists between a musical "ear" and an aptitude for languages. I speak six and have little difficulty absorbing new ones.

Anyone else?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, once I started second-quantising, I could play the Godowsky edits of the Chopin études --- on the violin!

But seriously, I also have little difficulty absorbing new languages (English *before* primary school, then Spanish and German in the last 5 years). What I find difficult is their retention - I just have no incentive or occasion to do this, so they slowly vanish.

Any other theorists visiting this board (it seems every other physicist on the fingeboard is more on the engineering side than not)?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the connection is between fast and wit--not between subjects; this has its biggest influence, I think on sight reading ability.

And then there is the creative aspect of so many things, music being just one of the "things." Try Arthur Koestler's (sp.) massive tome "Creativity."

Then there is the purely mechanical, or athletic, (I think of it as gymnastic) aspect of playing string instruments (and pianos).

Finally there is the whole problem of genius -a real problem, for most of us, because since as fish tend not to see above the water, so we tend to be unable to really see those who stand above our plane of competence, and only know of their genius as they communicate to us at levels we can fathom.

I just think you have to have lots of intelligence of a number of kinds to do music well. I just think you have to have lots of intelligence of a number of kinds to do science well. I just think you have to have lots of intelligence of a number of kinds to do just about anything well. Sometimes these abilities converge, and sometimes not.


[This message has been edited by Andrew Victor (edited 10-17-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites


You are quite correct in saying, "use it or lose it". Language skills, like many others, atrophy through lack of use.

However, the human brain, once programmed, does't really "forget", it just gets rusty from disuse.

Riding a bike, knowing how to swim or dance, speaking another language and, yes, playing the violin, are skills, once mastered, are embedded into the human brain and never lost.

If you didn't pick up a violin for twenty or even thirty years, do you really think you'd start back as a scratchy, squeaky beginner? I truly doubt it. Rusty yes, but memory erased, no.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having grown up in a mostly academic family and surrounded by pure science and engineering types, I must admit my observations are at best anecdotal.

I went to high school with a person who is a very gifted mathematician, pianist, and composer, who has since become the youngest tenured professor at Harvard (at 26, in math).

My former physics professor in college has two daughters that are "hitting the big time" in violin. One of them has a degree in applied math, also from Harvard.

Einstein dabbled on the violin. On the other hand, I know plenty of successful musicians who didn’t come from scientific/technical backgrounds or up-bringing.

About the only common threads I can see between science and music is that generally interest/pre-disposition is expressed at a very young age and fostered through adulthood. Both require much discipline and dogged persistence to achieve proficiency. In other words, it would be best if you have the "freshness of youth" to pursue these fields. I don’t remember which physicist said this, but something to the effect "If you haven’t made a contribution to the field by (age) thirty, then chances are you probably won’t." If I had to guess, this ("hitting the big time") is probably similar in music as well, especially in performance. Of course there are exceptions (say Szeryng, but he had help from Rubenstein). Heck, W. A. Mozart and Schubert died when they were in their thirties...

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Well, I do research in (applied) math and play the violin. I still believe that a lot of scientists are also proficient in arts because of their education: generally, they have parents with an open mind and who have experienced the bohemian life of universities, and who are willing to share this experience smile.gif Of course, there are exceptions, but I am talking about a majority of colleagues who play music.

The only "cranial connection" between music and science I see is in the hability to engineer the learning and practising processes. From the scientist point of view, we have to *find* ways of reaching a target within a limited time. And I like to believe that for a given level of proficiency, the less gifted musicians are more intelligent that the "geniuses", who did not have to do anything to get there wink.gif

As far as music related physics or mathematics branches go, I can think of computer science, electrical engineering, signal processing, mechanics with plates and hulls, partial differential equations (e.g., why do two distinct violins sound different? Because the solutions of the Laplace equation depend on the shape of the domain! smile.gif )

BTW, there is a great book on the relations between Bach's music, Godel's theorem and Escher's drawing, by Douglas Hoffstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach). Very enlightening, albeit very thick!

Cheers, Pascal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a musician for 28 years with a BS (major- English Literature; Minors- Math and Physics) whose spent 15 years in automotive engineering and manufacturing, I've come to believe that there is a common connection between music and engineering sciences. The connection is that both disciplines require the ability to mentally understand dynamic systems in real time. An operating engine, for instance, functions much like an orchestra. Numerous components funtioning independently yet coming together to form a dynamic, changing whole. As a musician and as an engineer, you must be able to focus on an individual component, understand its relation to the larger whole, and still not lose sight of the bigger picture.

I think this mental capability applies quite broadly to things that involve complex systems like engineering, language, computers, theology, etc. A boss once told me that musicians tend to make the best computer programmers for these reasons. I've mentioned this here before and several people disagreed, but I've had it confirmed by several people I've worked for and with over the years.

As for which engineering discipline uses the most physics and relates the most to music, I think acoustics is formally a part of a mechanical engineering degree but I find electrical engineering to be the most physics related (although I'll probably get flamed by all the thermodynamics types). Not by much but impedances and such are quite theoretical. I think practically, an EE with acoustics classes would apply most to music. It would allow you to design sound systems and all kinds of musical support equipment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Originally posted by Pascal:

...BTW, there is a great book on the relations between Bach's music, Godel's theorem and Escher's drawing, by Douglas Hoffstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach). Very enlightening, albeit very thick!

Cheers, Pascal.

Go for this book it is great.! Doug is a physicist and also an accomplished musician!

I have heard him play Bach...

I believe one strong connection between music and math, physics, engineering, programming, etc is the ability to use abstraction. There is no way you will really understand music if you cant handle abstract models of things... do you really think Bach wrote the (famous) chaconne in a linear way?... my guess is he had a clear structure of the piece in his mind before writing down a note. It is likely he had played it many times before writing down notes!

cheers -sm

[This message has been edited by sm (edited 10-18-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...