Music, Art and Science? Can You Really Make Them Work Together?
There seems to be a disconnect in the world – between and the idea that if you are “mathy” or “sciency”you cannot be creative, and the reality of how science and the arts are truly interconnected. Many often believe that science and the arts are mutually exclusive; yet many of the world’s greatest scientists were also artists, musicians or both.
While Albert Einstein is perhaps the most well-known example of a brilliant scientist who was also a violinist, Beatrix Potter is also a fabulous example of the fact that you can be creative and be a scientist.
Potter grew up in the English countryside during the late 1800s, the child of two artists herself. She had an interest in animals from an early age, and enjoyed sketching them. She was a natural scientist and conservationist, and left her land holdings in trust so that future generations could enjoy the same nature that she did as a child.
She had the best of both worlds, I think; the ability to study nature and the artistic skills to draw what she observed. I love science, but drawing? My stick figures are pretty sad. However, she wasn’t the only musician or artist who followed their scientific passions. More recently we have Bryan Holland, of the punk band The Offspring, with a Ph.D. in molecular biology. The list goes on, and sometimes those on the list are surprising – just take a look.
What’s the point?
As with many things, teaching your non-artsy kid about art history or music appreciation may appear somewhat pointless at first, until you look at the truth: Every discipline has crossovers into other areas.
The work you do in one area enhances your ability to perform in others. The artist who studies the human form may well be the physician who realizes that the muscle group giving you problems is damaged in a way that isn’t obvious otherwise.
The thing is, you never know how that love of music or art may translate into the “real world” for your kids; all you can do is help them experience a number of different arts, both performing and visual, that will expand their horizons.
From a scientific standpoint, studying music aids in understanding the scientific process – when musicians refine a piece of music, they change one or two variables in their playing of the piece (or just passage). Then, they play through it, analyze the results, and repeat the cycle. Studying music also requires a certain amount of fortitude, because it isn’t easy; refining one’s art is a similar process.
See also: Music Resource List
While some of the more science-minded may say that they are not creative, that is untrue. Perhaps it is true to say that they are not a master painter or music prodigy, but saying they are not creative is a disservice. Scientists must be constantly on the lookout for new and creative ideas, they must also be brave enough to follow those ideas to their logical conclusion. They are creative, but scientists express that creativity differently than in an artist or musician.
Helping your child harness science for their art (and vice versa)
Here are a few activities that incorporate a bit of art into science.
- Leaf rubbings, where you place a leaf behind a piece of paper and rub over the top of it, help highlight the leaf’s structure and can be used as part of a nature journal. Teach your child to observe each part of the leaf, and how it connects to the tree. Here is an interesting project: leaf reliefs done with a bit of aluminum foil, matt board and spray paint. https://cassiestephens.blogspot.com/2012/03/leaf-relief.html
- Explore different rates of absorption using watercolor. http://www.funathomewithkids.com/2014/02/exploring-absorption-with-watercolors.html
- Understanding pitch (frequency) is fun when you take 8-10 glasses and fill them with different amounts of water. Then tap each side with a spoon lightly (you don’t want to break them). Higher pitches have higher frequencies. Use the same style of glass, or the results will not be consistent.
- Here’s a fun video on youtube that shows music from the inside of a guitar. It isn’t a real oscillation, but the visual effect caused by the camera sensor that cannot keep up with the speed of the strings’ vibration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttgLyWFINJI Nigel Stanford creates visually interesting videos that incorporate science and sound: https://nigelstanford.com/Cymatics/ and the music’s pretty fun too.
- Learn about the different things painters used to create paints. Those artists were pretty skilled to be able to make them, and you can’t tell me there wasn’t some science involved in their art. Some of the ingredients were pretty dangerous, mercury was one such ingredient. Check out this timeline: https://www.bbc.com/timelines/zqytpv4
Also read: Music Appreciation Made Easy
The bottom line
For all the studies that are done on the correlations between music, art and science, there is something that most of them do not measure: the human need to connect to something that is bigger than we are. Science, music, art – they all help us do this. The idea that if you are artistic, then you cannot be a scientist because they are mutually-exclusive is ridiculous. While your science- or math-loving kiddo may have no interest in becoming an artist or musician (or vice-versa), there are things you can do to incorporate those disciplines into their studies in ways that are meaningful and help them grow into the adult they were meant to be.
9 Artists Who Are Scientific Innovators – from Leonardo da Vinci to Samuel Morse; Lebowitz; https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-9-artists-made-contributions-science-leonardo-da-vinci-samuel-morse
Arts Foster Scientific Success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi Members; Root-Bernstein, PhD, et all; https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/1035/arts-foster-scientific-success.pdf
Learning Tangent is Gail’s brainchild. When it all goes down, she has to get the magazine out the door and on its way to subscribers. She has four kids, of whom she and her husband David homeschool two. She enjoys a wide range of activities including weaving, photography, writing, is a musician (both a teacher & performer), calligrapher, and is an avid sci-fi- & fantasy reader. You’ll generally find her busy doing whatever it is she wants to on a given day.