Why musicians and scientists are really not that different

What do Stephen Hawking and Paul McCartney have in common? One is a world-acclaimed theoretical physicist who pioneered the discovery of the mysteries of the universe, while the other is a successful composer and recording artist of all time. Is that all, though?

Perhaps you might want to add the fact that creativity allowed each of them to succeed in their respective fields. But again, that’s not all. There are several reasons explaining why musicians and scientists are really not that different.

The relationship between music and science has been well documented in a variety of contexts. In his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach, author Douglas Hofstadter illustrates the cognitive underpinnings that scientists and musicians have in common. Here’s how musical composition and scientific research share numerous essential stepping stones:

Music is math

The composition of music is essentially a mathematical exercise. Music creation involves the interaction of sounds, pitch, and tempo just as production of new scientific discoveries entail interaction of known facts coupled with inspiration, imagination, and conjecture. Both fields apply theories and formulas to explore elusive mysteries of life and to solve problems.

Why musicians and scientists are really not that different

Numerous scientific theories have tried to explain music. There’s sufficient evidence that music is as varied and complex as scientific theories or principles. Mathematics is an art and a science, and music is also both a science and an art.

There’s a reason why music is considered the father of mathematics. Knowing how to break sound into its elements of rhythm, tempo, and pitch is necessary when making music. In science, we learn that sound is vibration and that what makes different sounds is the frequency of vibration.

For that reason, music is simply the study of the sound generated by vibrations. Those vibrations put different musical elements into patterns that can elicit emotion. Scientists regard mathematics as music for the intellect.

Music and science require creativity and experimentation

Both writing music and conducting a scientific experiment are creative endeavors. If you enjoy piecing together a scientific experiment, you could just as well enjoy puzzling with a musical arrangement. Furthermore, both fields involve sharing work in front of an audience—music at gigs, and science at seminars and conferences.

Why musicians and scientists are really not that different

Both music and science involve collaboration

The string quartet and a scientific study are similar in that they both involve collaboration. Scientists collaborate constantly while carrying out their scientific studies, just as musicians can form an orchestra to present a beautiful symphony.

Scientists love hearing feedback, advice, and criticism from their audience. In the same way, musicians deal with a host of critics who help shape their music career in the long run.

Songs are like puzzles

It’s often more appealing to write your own songs than play other people’s work. Not only does your heart play a vital role, but your brain too formulates the words, chords, and notes that best resonate with each other.

The songwriting process is more or less the same as puzzle-solving. They both have to do with working out what fits where—and no individual likes a puzzle more than a scientist. In these ways and more, musicians and scientists share common traits.