How Does Music Work? (and Why Should We Play It?)

How Does Music Work? (and Why Should We Play It?)

Music is something I have studied, thought about, and practiced most of my life and yet only understood little. I thought this might be a fun chance to peek into the science behind music and also think about some of the reasons we study it.

The open A string on a violin, or five notes above middle C on the piano, has a frequency of 440 hertz (abbreviated as “hz”). This means that when you play that note, the air is compressing and decompressing four-hundred and forty times every second, vibrating your eardrum. An octave up, the next A has double that frequency, 880hz, and another octave would be double again, and so on.

Notes that sound good together tend to have a simple mathematical relationship. In “Also Sprach Zarathustra”—familiar to most as the opening of “2001: A Space Odyssey”—the first three notes are B, F-sharp, and another B. If we compare the frequencies of B and F-sharp, we get a ratio of 2:3.

When we hear this, though, we don’t remark to ourselves “I really love when the notes have a ratio of two to three!” We don’t hear the math at all, and some might be upset that I’m even trying to talk about math and music together. My point is this: although we can describe the nuts and bolts of music as basically “math you can hear”, the end result is clearly far more than a quick aural calculation, and the question that has always fascinated me is, “Why on Earth do our brains do this?”

As far as I know, our best guess is that the ability to hear different pitches allows us to decipher emotion and intention in human speech, and as a happy side effect, we also interpret certain combinations of abstract sounds as meaningful.

Whatever the reason, the fact that our brains hear music at all is absolutely wild, and I will probably be amazed by it until the day I die.

To take a brief turn, think about some of the reasons we listen to and study music: to stay mentally sharp, to pad a resume, to woo women/men, to make money, because our parents made us, to express something deeper than language, to motivate, to get attention, to understand ourselves, to connect to others, to reminisce, to gain status, to relax.

Any reason to study music is a good one. That said, some reasons are better than others. The technical challenges of learning an instrument can be diabolically frustrating and monotonous. We can temper those challenges by remembering that we aren’t really here in pursuit of a grade, or a job, or a more impressive resume, although we may get all of those. We’re here to engage with the grand mystery. We’re here, ultimately, to play.


Tal Spackman, Violin Instructor

Jesusa Pons-Garner

I’ve had both my children attend lessons at this location. The staff is absolutely wonderful. Mrs. Amber is an incredible piano instructor!

Jesusa Pons-Garner / parent
Jennifer Ortega

San Antonio Music Academy is very well organized. My daughter's piano teacher is wonderful! She's been taking lessons for 5 months and looks forward to each lesson. I really enjoy the recitals at the LOL Comedy Club.

Jennifer Ortega / parent
Esmeralda Saavedra

My daughter has been registered here since she was 7. Each instructor she’s had has been very friendly and great to work with. Currently she has lessons with Ms Maria and we are so grateful for her and the entire SAMA staff. I can’t recommend enough.

Esmeralda Saavedra / parent
Elio Maldonado Jr.

Jacob was an excellent guitar instructor. He was patient and prepared. I definitely recommend him to any person wanting to learn guitar.

Elio Maldonado Jr. / parent
Crystal Reyes

We absolutely  San Antonio Music Academy!!! All 3 of my children take lessons and they love it. My daughter Taylor has really improved her vocal abilities with the help of a wonderful vocal teacher.

Crystal Reyes / parent
Steve Dell

San Antonio Music Academy is awesome, my son loves the guitar lessons and is super excited to attend every week! He started with zero experience and progressed surprisingly fast. Randy is an amazingly talented guitarist/teacher. He is very patient, yet knows how to push students to the next level. Highly recommend all the instructors, the staff is great!

Steve Dell / parent
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