Math is a vital skill for anyone in, or aspiring to be in, the music industry. From understanding music publishing deals and royalty statements to applying music theory and music production concepts, math can help you enormously. For many of us, though, math is something that’s preferably avoided or best left to someone else. Applied Mathematics for Musicians is designed to change that and to build your own knowledge of, and confidence in, math in practical ways that relate directly to the world of music.
The course explores fractions, percentages, proportions, averages, and algebra, in addition to exponential and logarithmic equations. A focus is placed on real-life applications, with the mathematics, itself, a means to achieving an end. For example, you will use fractions to determine whether notes are consonant, algebra to determine minimum ticket sales to earn a certain amount at a show, exponential equations to determine the frequencies of notes in various tuning systems, and logarithms to determine decibel levels. In addition, the course provides an overview of the mathematics underlying personal and business finances, which will help you make better decisions about your financial future.
The course is designed specifically for those who find math intimidating or who feel that their math skills have become rusty. The course is action-oriented. It will walk you through math problems and how to solve them, and then ask you to try your hand at them. The course is based on a similar offering taught at Berklee’s Boston campus, where this learn-by-doing approach has been very effective.
The connection between music and math is strong. Research has shown that the same area of the brain that processes music is also responsible for mathematical thinking. The goal of this course is to make that connection real for you, so that you walk away with practical knowledge that better inform your decisions and work in the music industry. By the end of the course, your math skills will be well-honed, allowing you to use math to solve any relevant problems that crop up.
For those students lacking a background in math and interested in pursuing a bachelor of professional studies degree in music business through Berklee Online, this course serves as a prerequisite for Music Business Finance, a required course in the major.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- Relate fractions to music
- Use algebra as a predictive tool, such as in predicting ticket sales
- Achieve a greater appreciation for scale, useful when understanding finances
- Calculate the value of assets
- Assess the utility of potential investments
- Apply geometric series to compound interest
- Describe mathematics related to debt and loans
- Employ exponents to calculate the frequencies of notes in various tuning systems
- Use logarithms to determine decibel levels
- Translate word problems into algebra, via translating key words and phrases into mathematics
- Describe and apply the iterative process, which is useful for solving both mathematical equations and non-mathematical life situations
Lesson 1 Basic Calculations and Operations
Lesson 2 Percentages, Time, and Handling Unusual Numbers
Lesson 3 Expectations and Breaking Even
Lesson 4 Proportions, Averages, and Rates of Change
Lesson 5 Substitution, Significant Figures, and Scientific Notation
Lesson 6 Exponents and Equal Temperament Tuning
Lesson 7 Harmonic Series, Just Intonation, and Pythagorean Tuning
Lesson 8 Geometric Sequences and Financial Math Part One
Lesson 9 Geometric Series, Rate of Return, and Asset Value
Lesson 10 Debt
Lesson 11 Logarithms and Mathematical “Ear Training”
Lesson 12 Decibels and Sound
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
This course does not have any prerequisites
- A scientific calculator is recommended
General Course Requirements
Author & Instructor
Kevin Block-Schwenk is an associate professor of Liberal Arts at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught mathematics courses for musicians since 2005. In addition to creating Berklee Online’s Applied Mathematics for Musicians course and teaching it since its completion in 2013, Kevin operates a small real estate business. He received his B.A. in Economics from Brandeis University and his M.Ed. in Mathematics Education from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He lives in Boston with his wife and five cats, and enjoys biking, games, history, vegan cuisine, and being on the receiving end of music.
Mary Beth Valuk
Mary Beth Valuk is an associate professor of Liberal Arts at Berklee College of Music, where she has taught mathematics courses for musicians since 2015. In addition to teaching Berklee Online’s Applied Mathematics for Musicians course, she teaches eighth grade algebra. She received his B.S. in Mathematics and Science, as well as her M.S. in Language and Literacy Studies from Wheelock College in Boston. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, two children and two cats.Mary Beth Valuk teaches at Berklee Online.
Matthew Smith is an associate professor of liberal arts at Berklee College of Music, where he has been teaching courses in mathematics, statistics, acoustics, Logic and programming since 2011.