Music Math and Mind

the physics and neuroscience of music

Columbia University
Fall, 2017 -- AS4000
Dr. David Sulzer, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Pharmacology at Columbia University Medical School; Sound Arts in the School of the Arts
Co-instructors: Ethan Edwards, Brad Garton and Ben Holtzman

course syllabus

This course is a detailed and hands-on (ears-on) exploration of the fundamental physical and physiological aspects of sound and music. Topics covered include the math and physics of sound waves, pitch, harmonics, and rhythm: animal sound production strategies: sound transduction and perception mechanisms in the ear and brain: and associated neurological disorders. Coursework includes student-led projects.

This course encompasses the physics and neuroscience of music. Topics will include the mathematics by which musical scales, rhythms, and harmonies are derived, a topic that spans the history of math from the monochord of Pythagoras, wave functions, calculus required for equal temperament, through fractal geometry. The perception of music encompasses the physics, anatomy, and neuroscience of the ear and auditory neural pathways, and synaptic mechanisms that occur within the midbrain and cerebral cortex, and there will be attention to what little is known about the physiology of emotion. Additional topics will include physics of sound and physiology and associated behaviors associated with animal sound including songbirds, cetaceans, insects, and bat echolocation. Previous coursework in math and physiology is not required, and it is intended to be useful from diverse backgrounds in science or the arts, including undergrad and grad students.

Some questions the class will address


We will be using the following free applications as part of our sonic explorations: