Wednesday, January 14, 2015


By the time my children reached the sixth grade I could no longer help them with math. Sixth grade was that time in my life where I tried to "fit in" with the kids around me, and I lost a lot of ground making stupid mistakes. I stopped playing violin, and I no longer took the academic work of school seriously. I suppose that you could say it was a time of rebellion, but I recall that prior to the beginning of sixth grade, most of my interest in things having to do with learning and music was self directed. Nobody made me practice or made me do homework. When I did do homework, I used a crutch. When I stopped practicing violin it was simply assumed that I did not have any interest in playing, and when I did poorly in math, it was probably assumed that I didn't have any aptitude. My low SAT scores didn't matter, because I was going to music school. I had to wait until taking the GRE was not required before I was able to get a Master's Degree.

When I realized that I really needed to play an instrument somewhere in the middle of the 7th grade, the violin was something I didn't feel I could go back to. As a result of not playing attention in sixth grade math class, I was lost when it came to 7th grade math. I never thought to ask for help. All I really cared about during jr. high school was music, and my teachers were all impressed with my dedication to music. Perhaps they bought into the myth that music and math are pretty much the same thing. I am living proof that they are not. The fact that I graduated from high school (there was not much of a math requirement, and "easy" math counted as part of it) proves that intuition can get you far enough to fool people. For some odd reason I do remember something about geometry, and I do recall finding it a lot of fun. I never understood algebra.

Here's my stash of books from the library. My plan is to start learning 6th grade math now, and then I plan to make my way through the subsequent levels in order to become math literate.

I did it with the violin, I did it with writing music, and I am doing it with the piano. Any guidance from readers who are sympathetic to my cause would be highly appreciated.


Cynthia Wunsch said...

First off, brava to you for deciding to become fluent in math! You will find that music theory will help you when it comes to the "logic" of math, and just tell yourself the problems to work are like technical exercises.

Take it slowly, ask for help when necessary, and be glad your brain will re-use some of that music circuitry for math, too. Set a reasonable goal and stick to it. There are plenty of online resources (courses, YouTube videos) if you get stuck. And remember, what makes sense to one person won't make sense to someone else,so if you don't understand, it's not your fault; you just need a different approach.

Anonymous said...

"Innumeracy" is the -- nay, THE -- book I would recommend.

We musicians should know that while notes and words are related, they are not interchangeable or functionally identical. This is so with numbers and words, which probably explains why budgets scare so many people.

As to math and music, as best I understand the modeling in the brain, the better relationship is music to emotional cognition. Sometimes words and numbers move me to feel stupid, while music moves me to feel alive. I choose the latter. Best wishes.