The Incredible Music-Math Connection

We use math everywhere, even in music. In fact, students who excel in music also do well in math! Let us take one mathematical concept as an example, and see how it can be used in music.

Least Common Multiple – LCM

Let us explore this with an activity. If you are doing this with your friends, this is a fun exercise using konnakol, or vocal percussion. Start by forming two groups – A and B.

Group A will recite 3 phrases: “tha ki ta.” Group B will recite 4 phrases: “tha ka dhi mi.” Both groups will start saying it together and keep repeating it until both groups say the last syllable at the same time. For Group A, it’s “ta,” for Group B, it’s “mi.” 

How many times did each group repeat the cycle?

Group A would have repeated it four times to end at the same time as Group B, whereas Group B repeated it three times. If Group A said four beats three times, they would have said a total of 4×3 = 12 beats. Similarly, Group B said three beats four times to end at the same time, so they would have said a total of 3×4=12 beats. 

The least common multiple, or LCM, of 4 and 3 is 12. Konakkol is a fun, musical way to apply this concept.

Fun facts about music and math

While it is helpful to have soft music in the background while solving a tough algebra problem, there are deeper connections between music and math. Both in Carnatic and other forms of music, some form of calculation is involved. Time signatures, beats per minute, and different permutations and combinations of patterns all activate the part of your brain that you use while doing math. Here are some things you should know, based on research from around the world: 

  1. Children (between ages 5-8) who had exposure to Carnatic music performed significantly better at mathematics compared to those who didn’t, according to this 2020 study. 
  2. Indian classical music is making waves around the world for its connections to math. Prof. Manjul Bhargava, Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University talked extensively about it at the International Conference on the Zero at UNESCO.   
  3. We use patterns in both music and math. Some research has shown that our brains are wired to love music with rhythm and patterns, which is one of the reasons why pop music is so, well, popular! 

From improved critical thinking and self-expression to better math skills, music comes with a world of benefits, especially for young learners. If you are a parent or educator interested in making music a bigger part of your child’s life, read more about our SaPa in Schools program here.

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