Practice Makes Perfect in Music and Maths

Atul R

December 18, 2014

“Musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.” ~ David Ackert, LA Times


A tutor is also a mentor and as such the tutor’s life experiences and values always shine through. In my case, through being a musician for 18 years I bring the values of passion, hard work, perseverance, practice, overcoming shyness and having lots of fun!

It was my dream to sing in a rock band, but I did not dare tell anyone that when I was at school. I was a shy and studious kid and I thought they would laugh at me. At 19, I was in my second year at university and I bought a cheap acoustic guitar. For 6 months I practiced in my room; everything seemed out of tune, awkward and jerky. But sometimes I would be playing along to a song and I would be in sync with the song. That was enough for me, I knew if I kept going that I would get the hang of it! And I certainly did. I stuck at the guitar for another 3 years and then finally joined my first rock band when I started my PhD at Imperial College London. That was 13 years ago, and since then I have performed on stage a few hundred times, been on radio, video and done some interviews. I was driven by that magical moment of musical nectar, and with it I overcame every challenge that stood in the way.

As both a guitar teacher and a maths tutor, I often use many music related analogies to explain things to my students. I encourage them to keep practicing even when times are tough and to learn how to jam and co-operate with others. Another one of my favourite expressions from music is that “restrictions will set you free”. What that means is that by having the restriction of playing in 4/4 time or being restricted to writing a 3 minute pop song is in fact better for your creativity than not having these restrictions at all. By imposing this boundary you can create an environment in which you have to be creative within that framework. If that framework did not exist, there would be no start or finish and things would be too open ended.

I tell my students that getting good at a part of maths is very much like learning a piece of music. When you first start off learning the piece it is clunky, a bit out of time and sometimes quite messy! But that does not mean you stop learning it, the more you learn it, the more the piece starts taking shape and begins to flow gracefully as the notes blend into each other. It does not matter how many attempts it takes for you to learn that piece of music fully: 5 goes, 10, or even a 100. All that matters is that, in the end, you can play the music. So never be put off by the first few attempts! Since I understand this from having learnt music myself, it allows me to be patient with my students’ mistakes.

What do the X factor and algebra have in common? I love asking this question when I am explaining prime factors. It links my two main interests, that of music with that of maths and technology. So, what’s the answer? A big number can be broken up and divided into many smaller numbers, the smallest numbers can’t be broken further down and are therefore one of the factors in making the bigger number..big. Where does the X factor come into this? To become a music star you need a number of things, a great voice, creativity, and something else that is very hard to articulate. But when you see that something, you know it’s there. It grabs you! Since this ‘something’ never really had a name, Simon Cowell used some of his Algebra knowledge and called this thing X, and the missing factor in musical stardom is the X factor. How’s that for an association between X factor and Algebra? Algebra isn’t that boring after all.

If you'd like Atul to help you with your guitar or performance skills (or with helping you find that mathematical X factor!) he'd love to hear from you - click here to send him a message.

Tutorfair sent Atul and his guitar to the Gooseberry Bush Cafe to sooth new and expectant mothers with his music at an NCT Wimbledon pamper evening. If you'd like Atul or someone like Atul to play at your event click here!

"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. ... I get most joy in life out of music." ~ Albert Einstein

[caption id="attachment_1062" align="alignnone" width="1067"]Atul the musician and mathematician has that X factor! Atul the musician and mathematician has that X factor![/caption]