The One Thing Programmers and Musicians Have In Common

In my previous post, a commenter asked this question:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

A proven way to enhance a child’s mental ability is to get them a musical (real; not some push button thingy) instrument to play and play with as soon as possible.

Learning to play at a very early age wires the brain up in a manner that results in higher iq, better understanding of abstract concepts, better math scores in school, etc, and of course, better music.

It’s just the right thing to do for your child and, as early as possible you should do it.

Don’t discourage their playing, if they break it, get them another one. You will be simply amazed at how such a minor investment reaps such tremendous rewards…

I tried to do website work for a group of (literally) rock star musicians. Their ideas were so head-in-the-clouds that I couldn’t follow anything they were saying. They were talking about the Internet in imaginary terms, clearly not understanding the least bit about how data really flows through an application.

Good musicians do not necessarily need to have the thought-path required to figure out computer logic, apparently.

Good programmers have to have musical or some artistic talent because programming by itself is not useful. Programming is only useful when it’s used to solve a logic problem in a creative way.

(F - G7 - C)… Done!

Except that I cared that they are good musicians.

Where’s five, Vinny?

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that neither my compositions nor my code actually exist. They are simply virtual concepts translated into series of instructions that are later interpreted by a [ CPU | better musician than me ]

But more importantly, the volume on my amps go up to eleven.

Yet-Another-Musician-Programmer :slight_smile:


I studied at the Conservatorium in my neck of the woods only to leave it to study programming.

Money was the main reason I did it - I loved both, but there’s no money in music unless you’re really, really good (and up for practicing about 8 hours a day - which I wasn’t).

For all the bravado of performing, the act of actually learning an instrument is very introverted and insular. These tendencies are often linked with young adopters of software engineering, along with having lots of free time to pursue their personal interests.

I’ve also noticed that at the top of their game, the musicians and great developers i’ve met tend to be physically fit, see their profession as a ‘craft’ and are interestingly prone to all sorts of ‘escapist tendencies’.

I dont really care if the programmers are a good fit for a musician or viceversa, what I can tell is that usually programmers that like to listen to music while programming are better programmers than those who cannot listen to music while doing because they get distracted.

Having written the comment on which this blog was based, I would like to make two observations:

  1. The most obvious correlation between musicians and programmers is that if you take a group of four of either, you end up with five opinions ;0)

  2. Recent research has discovered that playing music to haemorrhagic stroke victims significantly increases their chance of recovering speech due to exercising the plasticity of the brain.

See this interview with vibes and marimba player Stefon Harris:

I have heard before that Elvis Costello was a programmer before he hit it big. I wonder if there are other famous musicans with a techie past?

I understand that Tommy Tutone is a programmer. He’s famous enough, in my book.

Well I am a musician too! I play in a guitar orchestra called Orquesta de guitarras Armando Morales Barillas(I am from Nicaragua) and there is a lot in common in both skills.

Nice post!

So many of the best minds I have met in computing have a love for music. Is it something to do with being able to see beauty in complex numerical systems?

I don’t think I’ve met more than a handful of people (from any profession) who don’t have a love for music. Who doesn’t like music? It’s part of being human. Hmmm… could it be true that all programmers are human? :slight_smile:

I have heard before that Elvis Costello was a programmer before he hit it big. I wonder if there are other famous musicans with a techie past?

BTW, I’m a musician myself, having played in marching bands and rock bands for a long time. Just never hit it big. :slight_smile:

During the past 15 years, you have probably practised programming for something like 40000 hours. At the start of that time you had no programming skill - you now are now /at least/ competent.

If you’d done 40000 hours music practise during the past fifteen years, despite starting with no skill, then I’m sure you’d be now be /at least/ competent at that too.

You’d also now be saying We’re the musicians; music is whatever we say it is.

The common factor is the management of deeply-nested hierarchal complexity. To do either music or software, you need to be able to navigate the levels of a hierarchy with automatic ease.

I’d have to agree with jammus… it’s not just programmers/developers… it’s most people that love music.

I love and live for programming. It’s my job and I spend a good portion of my hobby time dedicated to it.

When it comes to Music though describing me as tone deaf would be a compliment to my abilities.

I strongly disagree with a few of the above; most of the people I know sort of like music, but they definitely don’t love music. There’s a pretty big distinction.

Godel, Escher and Bach is worth a mention here - Hofstadter talks quite a bit about some of Bach’s canons being repetitive, and varying and even recursive.