woman holding books

What does classical music have to do with mathematics?

My scores in math were low during my entire school career, but I had no problem understanding and playing classical music. When I read about the importance of numbers in classical music, I started to believe that the composers were also good at math. So I took the liberty of asking a few questions to ChatGPT; although I felt like Michael Knight talking to K.I.T.T., I was intrigued with the answers and wanted to share these with you.

Does Mozart make you smarter?

Listening to Mozart's music has been suggested to temporarily boost specific cognitive abilities, such as spatial-temporal reasoning, in a phenomenon known as the "Mozart effect." However, it is essential to note that these benefits are small and short-lived and that other forms of cognitive stimulation, such as reading and physical exercise, may significantly impact overall cognitive function.

What about numbers in Mozart's music?

Mozart also used number symbolism in his music to give it deeper spiritual or religious meaning. One of the best-known examples of this is in his opera "The Magic Flute." The number 3 is a prominent theme throughout the opera and symbolizes the Holy Trinity; and also appears in the form of a trio of characters, a set of 3 trials, and the use of the number 3 in the overture.

Another example is in his Requiem in D minor, K. 626, which is a mass for the dead, and the number is a recurring theme throughout the work. The number 40 is associated with mourning and repentance in Christianity. The work consists of 40 sections, and the final section, the "Lacrimosa," is 40 bars long. Additionally, the number 7 is also recurring in Mozart's music; he used it as a symbol of perfection and the days of creation. Mozart used numbers in his music to give it a more profound spiritual or religious meaning, often referencing religious themes and numerology.

What was Bach's significant number?

Johann Sebastian Bach was known for many things, but one of his most important contributions was his use of number symbolism in his music. He often used specific numbers, such as 3 and 7, to give his compositions a more profound spiritual or religious meaning.

One of the most well-known examples of number symbolism in Bach's music is his use of the number 14. He used this number in many of his compositions, like in his "The Art of Fugue," a collection of 14 fugues and 4 canons. Some experts state that Bach's use of the number 14 is a reference to the 14 stations of the cross in the Christian tradition. Additionally, Bach often used the number 3 to symbolize the Holy Trinity and the number 7 to represent the seven days of creation. He also used the number 10 to indicate the Ten Commandments.

Can you relate classical music to mathematics?

Classical music and mathematics have many connections—for example, music is based on mathematical principles such as rhythm, harmony, and proportion. The concept of time, a mathematical concept, forms the base of rhythm in music. The principles of time signatures and meter, which are simple mathematical ratios, govern the structure of beats in music. Harmony in music stems from the concept of frequency and pitch, which are also mathematical concepts. The relationship between different pitches is determined by the principles of intervals and chords, one again simple mathematical ratios.

Proportion and symmetry are also significant in music. For example, many classical compositions work around symmetrical structures, such as the binary form, ternary form, and sonata form, which come from the principles of balance and proportion. Additionally, in the 18th century, with the development of well-tempered tuning systems, composers such as Bach and Mozart could compose in any key and have it sound in tune, which was a significant step forward in the development of tonality and harmony in music. It was made possible by the mathematical principles of equal temperament. In summary, classical music has many connections to mathematics, and the principles of rhythm, harmony, proportion, and symmetry are based on mathematical concepts.

Was Beethoven a mathematician too?

Although not a mathematician by profession, Beethoven deeply understood mathematical principles and often incorporated them into his compositions. In addition, he had a strong interest in the laws of harmony, rhythm, and structure and was known to have studied treatises on music theory and counterpoint.

Beethoven's use of rhythm and meter was quite complex, and he often employed hemiolas, syncopation, and irregular meters to create a sense of tension and release in his music. He also used mathematical techniques such as proportional canons, fugues, and variations to structure his compositions. He also composed several works inspired by number symbolism. For example, his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, has a choral setting of Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" in the final movement; the number of voices and the duration of this movement reflect the number 9, which is considered a sacred number in many cultures.

Is there a relation between mathematics and Shostakovich music?

Another great composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, was heavily influenced by mathematical principles in his music. He was known for using complex rhythmic structures, dissonant harmonies, and unconventional forms, which were all based on mathematical concepts. Shostakovich's use of rhythm is awe-inspiring. He often used irregular meters and asymmetrical phrases to create a sense of tension and dissonance in his music. Also, he used the "perpetuum mobile" technique, a type of fast-moving, rhythmically complex music that requires a deep understanding of mathematical principles such as time signatures and meter.

He also used mathematical structures in his compositions, such as sonata form and variation form, that built on the principles of symmetry and proportion. Additionally, he often used fugues and canons based on the principle of imitation, which are highly mathematical forms of composition. Shostakovich also used number symbolism; for example, in his Symphony No. 8, he used the number 8 as a symbol of the 8th of August, the day of the end of the war; in his Symphony No. 11, he used the number 11 as a symbol of the 11th of March, the day of the Bloody Sunday and in his Symphony No. 13, he used the number 13 as a symbol of the 13th of January, the day of the execution of the Jews in Babi Yar.

So Shostakovich's music is heavily influenced by mathematical principles, and his complex rhythms, dissonant harmonies, unconventional forms, and number symbolism are all based on mathematical concepts.


Although incredibly beautiful and instructive, classical music does not make you smarter; I have already discussed this with you. But classical music has a strong foundation in mathematics that you may still need to learn. So anyway, have fun listening, with or without mathematics equations.

Enjoy the music!

Leave a Reply