If you have always thought that science and music are worlds apart since they are categorized as “science” and “art” respectively, you may want to rethink your position after reading this post.

How Science and Music are related

The foundations of both science and music have similarities. They both have theories and rules that govern their expression. That is how both science and classical music have fundamentally remained the same over time and both musicians and scientists have been able to refer to the work of their predecessors.

If you aren’t convinced enough, then the story of Thomas Südhof, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine/physiology in 2013 should help you see the possibility of this. It is interesting to note that though he is such an accomplished scientist, he is saddened by the fact that classical music is slowly declining in the modern music world.

someone working in a laboratory
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This post by Norman Lebrecht gives a report of what the Nobel Laureate said in an interview after he got the award:

When Thomas Südhof won the 2013 Nobel Prize for medicine/physiology, he gave credit to his music teacher for the important advances he had made in discovering ‘ vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.’ Via Slipped Disc

The Role Of Music in His Science

While the claims he makes sound amazing, the reality of his excellence in his field of expertise cannot be denied. Interestingly, his history in music is surprisingly not very far removed from most of those who start out in the pursuit of excellence in a musical instrument.

Here’s what he says:

SÜDHOF: First, I was exposed to playing music in school, the recorder. Then I began the violin. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like the teacher. Perhaps it was the age, possibly the instrument. So I stopped playing the violin on my own initiative. But after a while, I decided I needed to do some music. So I picked the bassoon. I have no idea why. It may have been after all the subtle hints of some of my teachers. I doubt it was my parents. It may have been that I liked those sonorous deep sounds. Via Slipped Disc

He isn’t a superhuman after all. He went through the same process of learning music as anyone does.

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So what about his training in classical music contributed to his success in science? He gives credit to his music teacher, and you can sense the sentimental thoughts he has toward his bassoon teacher:

SÜDHOF: …It is important that one has teachers, who you can personally respect – a whole persona you can see. It is true in science as well in music, as well as other aspects of life. My bassoon teacher was the typical German musician that went through the system, learned how to be a bassoonist, and became an orchestra bassoonist in Hanover. He taught me from day one. I only had one teacher ever. He wasn’t set though on turning me into a professional musician. But he was set on having a certain degree of quality instilled in me. . Via Slipped Disc

The discipline in learning music

It is this quality that Dr. Thomas learned that contributed to his success in his career and in other areas of his life as he describes in the interview. That quality is reflected in the learning of music theory and the practice of his instrument. He continues to explain this concept in detail:

SÜDHOF: What I mean, when I say he was my most important teacher is that I see playing music very much akin to many of the other things I do. In that playing music requires above all a lot of practice and hard work. Via Slipped Disc


record player
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Continuous and repeated practice became his guiding principle and he actually was good at playing the bassoon. He even thought of making music his career as Norman Lebrecht explains. Eventually, he ended up as a scientist. Nevertheless, you can clearly say that this bassoon teacher succeeded in his work of training young Thomas even though he didn’t become a world renown musician.

SÜDHOF: That relates to what I do as a scientist. It also relates to what doctors do, in that you can’t be good at it, unless you are really technically outstanding. And to become outstanding takes just a lot of hard unimaginative, non-creative, repetitive work. That is most of what we do. And that is the absolute prerequisite. In that sense it is the same as in music. Via Slipped Disc

Yet another reason why you should consider classical music after all, huh?

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