My 2012 TEDx talk a Drexel, on math and music (everyone calm down.)

I was surprised last week (an understatement) to see that my 2012 talk at Drexel University, on the visual communication of math and music, has received more than 250,000 views – or at least partial views. Many of them, I think, are recent.

That may sound like a good thing, but there’s a major problem. People are watching it out of context. And some of them are really angry. If you came to the video without any background, here are some things that may calm you down.

  • This is a talk to 75 or 100 designers, mostly undergraduate design students, about visual communication and low literacy in math and music – which starts at an early age. It’s a day-long TEDx event about design, with a “Why Not Admit” theme. I’m proposing math and music education to the students as a design problem.
  • In the video segment that some people are up-in-arms about, I am NOT giving a music lesson. I am discussing things about notation that are confusing. To explain it, as I do in the earlier discussion about learning math, I’m speaking from my grammar school experience – speaking in first person, present tense. Which, seen out of context, may sound to some like a music lesson.
  • Reading flats and sharps, visually mapping the music scale to a piano keyboard, and understanding the difference between E# and F, were difficult. (I personally understand it, years later, which is why I chose music as a topic that day.)
  • I am not presenting the Nashville number system as a replacement (not sure why some people think I’m saying that.) I’m only showing it to the students as an alternative that some musicians have found useful.

If people came to the video expecting a solution, that wasn’t the purpose. I’m discussing the impact of visual communication on our ability to learn.

The like/dislike ratio for the talk is around 3:1, which is pretty good. And I have been receiving email messages from adults who are saying “thanks, I thought it was just me” and are going back to give music notation another try. But some of the hostile, mob-like reactions I’m seeing, made without any understanding of the context, and feeding off of each other’s misinterpretations, are making me feel like I’m in politics.

(I’m trying to get the TEDx organizers to update the YouTube description of the video. I may also add more to this post later.)


Posted in 2018, Blog.