Music and Programming

When telling some of my friends and family that I was planning on changing career, from being a freelance drummer to a web developer, the comment I got a lot was ‘Wow! But that’s completely different!’ At the age of 23, when making this decision, I did wonder whether it was even possible to learn all the technicalities that a web developer needs to know at this stage, or whether I had left it too late in life. Especially as I didn’t have any interest in websites or how they were made.

3 years down the line, and having now made the full transition into my new career, I have noticed so many connections between the skills that a professional musician has and the skills of a programmer.

Coding / patterns & maths

When learning to code I very quickly noticed a correlation between music notation and different coding patterns. They both require very specific syntax but can be written in many different ways, some of which are easier to read than others. You could write a bar of 12/8 time signature with 12 eighth notes, or write the very same thing in 4/4 with eighth note triplets. You could also write the same thing in 3/4 and just double the tempo. You could write anything in any time signature and the maths will always work itself out. This is called metric modulation.

image of a music stave showing the 12-8 signature notationimage of a music stave showing the eight note signature notation

Writing code and music notation requires structure, standards, semantics and maths. For example, in code you could write a function which can be called multiple times by other pieces of code, to save writing things more than once. And in music notation you could use a D.S. al coda to signify to the musician that they need to repeat this section at certain points in the music. Both reduce duplication of code / notation.

Keep calm and solve the problem

One big similarity I have found is the need to remain calm and concentrate on what you are doing, whether something has gone wrong and you need to fix it or you just need to get to the end of the song! The first time I did a sight reading gig I remember being very calm until I was half way through the first song, realising I was enjoying myself a bit too much and had therefore looked away from the music; by which point I had lost where I was. Argghhh – Panic. From then on I would rarely take my eyes away from the charts.

When you are coding I have found it takes the same level of concentration and discipline to fixate on what you are doing to achieve the best results. It tends to take about 20 minutes to work out where you are each time you come back to your code and therefore every time you take a break it can interrupt your progress significantly. Long and concentrated hours make for the quickest and best progress.

Lastly

After starting work at Siteset Digital, in August 2015, I learned that 4 out of the 6 developers here are musicians as well! This suggests that there may be a bigger link between the two professions than I previously thought. I think the biggest correlation is that both professions involve being creative. This is what attracted me to both web development and drumming. There is always something new to learn!

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