What is Math Plus Music?

There were several ideas behind the inception of Math Plus Music. Chiefly, Marcus, one of the cofounders, had experience in and passion for both fields. This led to some inspiring conversations between him, Marianna, and Terry around the connections between the two fields, not just in terms of the science of sound or symmetry in Bach, but of the subjective experience of engaging in the fields: Their demand for creativity and imagination, their relationship to aesthetic beauty, their juxtaposition of discipline and emotional satisfaction. These conversations extended to questions about what these ideas could teach someone who is not a mathematician or a musician, or even a person not devoted to a demanding craft. What insights about life could be gained from hours spent toying with abstract spaces or hiding out in a practice room for someone with only passing curiosity?


There are several in fact, and they are the subject of the series and the blog, but we found that they require some context to elucidate clearly and here we ran into another puzzle rooted in a critical difference between the two fields. The worlds of math and music have differing barriers to entry for appreciation. Music in our culture can be appreciated on a surface, without any knowledge of how or why the music emerges. You like a piece of music or you don’t, or often just as importantly, it’s part of your social life or its not. Understanding the inner workings of composition, orchestration, harmony, rhythm, audiocraft, and wordsmithing can instill the kind of delicious awe that gives meaning to life itself. Or such knowledge can remain a complete mystery and one can still easily develop an intensely emotional relationship to musical works.


With math, however, getting to the place where the ideas become savory and spiritual requires a fair amount of labor in our culture. In essence, it is similar to any other craft, where enthusiasm, consistent practice, and dedicated struggle give way to skill, clarity, and reverence. But its output is more esoteric, sometimes showing up in science or engineering, and sometimes confined to the minds of mathematicians and the pages of specialized journals. This is compounded with the fact that many people have had an emotionally taxing mathematics education that dissuaded further pursuit and exposed itself as inconsequential to areas of life that were more immediately compelling. Thus it is more easily ignored, misunderstood, or ridiculed.


And so the Math Plus Music project has two missions: Healing stagnant relationships with math using music as an entry point and an anchor, and introducing beautiful ideas from both worlds to people who are at least mildly curious. Ultimately, one has to discover the beauty and joy and wonder of these worlds for themselves. Ideally, we can point out to folks that this primal beauty exists, and provide some tools and inspiration to investigate the path further.

Marcus MillerComment